GRIFFITH | Sports fans have heard it so many times, mainly from incoming Chicago Cub managers, but when Konesha Rhea says, "I expect to win," one can't help but note how quickly her cheerful expression turns stone-cold serious.
"We're going to build a strong foundation, and that foundation is going to be based on fundamentals," Rhea said. "I know we're going to get players eager to learn, women with a passion for the game. Otherwise, they wouldn't invest their time and money."
The Hammond native and Calumet City resident is the general manager of the Illiana Ravens, a newly formed women's tackle football team that is preparing for the 2014 Women's Football Alliance season.
Though this is her first GM position with a women's team, Rhea is no "babe in the woods" when it comes to football.
"I've always been around football, whether playing tackle football or 'kill the guy with the ball' in the park, or working with a (men's) semipro team," said Rhea, who was an offensive lineman for two seasons with the Chicago Force of the WFA.
"I didn't play last season," said Rhea, who tore her ACL. "If I do play this season, I'll have to make a Derrick Rose- or Adrian Peterson-like comeback."
The Ravens are holding tryouts for players aged 18 and over from 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday at the Ho-Chunk Sports and Expo Center in Lynwood. There is a $25 tryout fee and prospective players are asked to arrive at least 30 minutes early for registration.
Head coach for the Ravens' inaugural season is Bob Crowder, who founded and coached the Lake County Steelers semipro team that eventually folded after 14 seasons.
"When I was coaching the Steelers, people used to ask me what type of offense we're going to run, and I would usually say, 'Uh, hum,'" said Crowder, whose wife, Ausra Crowder, owns the team. "Am I going to get a quarterback who can throw? Receivers who can catch? Running backs who can run? An offensive line that can pass block ... can run block?
"It's going to be like a mini-NFL combine," Crowder said of Saturday's tryout. "We're going to see who has two left feet ... who has two right feet ... who can do karaokes without crossing their legs ... and who can pick up what you're trying to teach them without having to go through things over and over again."
Rhea says that she already has commitments from several experienced and talented players, most notably Keesha "Taz" Brooks and Rosalyn Bennett.
"They were part of the most dominating offense line in women's football," Rhea said of her former Force teammates, who helped Chicago finish undefeated and win the WFA title last year.
"The reason I wanted to bring the first women's football team to Northwest Indiana because there were so many players like me around here who don't want to drive two or three hours to every practice and home game," said Rhea, whose Ravens will play their home games at Willowcreek Middle School in Portage.
"Football is getting more popular among girls," Rhea said. "You see more girls playing Pop Warner, and even playing high school football. It would be nice to have a local women's team with players these girls can look up to and say, 'Maybe I can play with them some day.'"
The WFA has more than 40 teams spanning to all corners of the continental United States. Unlike the pass-happy NFL where teams can throw for more than 500 yards and still lose, the WFA generally reverts back to the game's more rough-and-tumble origins.
"There are some teams with quarterbacks who can really throw the ball like (WFA World Championship MVP) Sami Grisafe from the Force," Rhea said, "but for the most part, teams use a power running attack.
"To be successful in this league, you need a good offensive line and strong running back like Michael Bush on the Bears ... someone who can drag two or three tacklers a couple of yards before going down."