This is the story of some Hurricanes
Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 15, 2004
It’s never too late to do what you love. It’s never too late to make your dreams come true.
Members of the Virginia Hurricanes prove it true every time they step on the football field.
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Some saw their potential high-profile careers temporarily slowed by injuries, injuries that put them down, but not quite out. Others lost their passion for the game, and now have one last chance to get it back. Still others are there just because of the game itself, and the enjoyment they’ve always found in it.
Back in the mid-1980s, LeTroy Manley caught passes and returned punts at Forest Glen High School. After graduating in 1986, he headed to Norfolk State, where injuries kept him from continuing his budding career – at least, for then.
Manley went into the ceramic tile business, and in 2000 became a manager at Roger Brown’s restaurant in Portsmouth. But he still strapped on the pads for the semipro Norfolk Neptunes for the 1998-9 season, and played in the annual Charity Bowl, which raises money for Virginia Beach schoolkids. It was at a Bowl game a few months ago that Manley learned of the Hurricanes, one of over 100 teams in the North American Football League (NAFL).
At 36, he probably wasn’t going to get a college scholarship or an NFL contract. With the league teeming with much younger, fitter players, Manley might not even get off the sidelines too often. But he didn’t think about that.
He thought of a new sense of inspiration for his 12-year-old son, a student at Portsmouth’s Cradock Middle School and apprentice gridiron star himself. He thought about getting some scouting attention for the squad, so some of his teammates could get noticed. But most of all, he remembered how much he loved the game.
&uot;It’s never too late for anything,&uot; he said. &uot;Playing out here is like being back at Birdsong Recreation Center or Peanut Park. I’m here to bring Suffolk some pride.&uot;
As the hot Saturday afternoon sun burned down on Lake Taylor High School, the squad warmed up in its green and white uniforms, much like those worn by the University of Miami, which also carries the Hurricane nickname (ironically, their opponents, the D.C. Explosion, wore maroon and yellow, making it appear that Miami and Florida State were continuing one of college football’s top rivalries in Virginia Beach!) Over on the sidelines, Joe Verdi blasted a few punts down the field.
A former All-American punter at Deep Creek, Verdi also went to Norfolk State, then played a year at Apprentice. He’s a two-time Charity Bowl Most Valuable Player, a former member of the NAFL’s Virginia Destroyers and D.C. Explo-sion, and has played in semipro All-Star games in Germany, Italy, Hawaii and elsewhere. He’s even worked out with the Denver Broncos and Pittsburgh Steelers.
But he hasn’t come quite close enough to play with the country’s finest. &uot;A lot of it is getting there,&uot; said Verdi, whose twin brother Steve plays running back for the Hurricanes. &uot;You show people that you have what it takes. Just going up (to the workouts) shows that you’re just as good as anyone, if not better. The biggest goal of this team is to get players to another level.&uot;
His father Joe Sr. watched from the stands. &uot;I think he’s been right on the edge for a long time,&uot; said the Suffolkian. &uot;All we ever gave our kids was inspiration. The only thing I worry about is a broken leg.&uot;
It was a slightly higher injury that kept Shaun Briscoe from the highest of leagues – a dislocated shoulder put a hold on his football career, which included four years at Nansemond River. Now on the Hurricane defensive line, Briscoe has one last shot to realize the dream of everyone who ever tossed an opposing linemen out of the way, ready to squash a hapless quarterback.
&uot;This game’s in my heart,&uot; he said. &uot;If I could do it all over again at Nansemond River, I would. I’ve been playing my whole life. I want to make it to the pros. It’s not just because of the money – this game is my heart.&uot;
Finally, it was game time. The Hurricanes roared out of the gates with the strength of the natural disaster namesakes, slamming down the Explosion and charging past them on the line. However, they were unable to push the ball quite over the line, managing only a safety for the first quarter. The game then turned into a defensive battle, with neither team managing more than two or three first downs in the second and third quarters. But with only a little time left, the Virginia squad turned things up a notch.
Helped by Briscoe’s prowess, they knocked the Explosion back to a fourth down on the D.C. 30. Then the defensive line crashed through and blocked the punt, sending the ball into the hands of Norcom alumnus Marco Hurdle, who raced 30 yards for the game’s first touchdown. Dara’ Clay snared a two-point conversion pass, and the score was 10-0.
The Explosion battled back, charging to the Hurricane five with less than two minutes to play. But the ball went over on downs again, and Shawn Boone bolted 95 yards for one more score, and Verdi kicked the extra point. The team’s next home game is July 24.
Verdi averaged 52 yards on five punts, smashing one out of his own endzone for 55 yards and landing another inside the Explosion five. &uot;That proves that you can do more than just punt the ball away,&uot; he said. &uot;Teams like seeing that you can punt for placement, and I felt like I accomplished a lot.&uot;
A few hours later, just as he does after every home game, Manley took the team to a late dinner at Brown’s. &uot;I feel great, even though I had to come straight to work!&uot; he said. &uot;I was determined. I feel like I never really got a chance the first time, and now I can do something that’ll inspire my kids. If you have the opportunity, if you have the heart to get out on the field, you always take it.&uot;