A Destroyer’s destiny

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Suffolk News-Herald

For Shawn Gainey, playing on the Virginia Destroyers semipro football team was the continuance of a long, temporarily interrupted career. For his teammate (and Suffolk-mate) Sean Cherry, it was the dawning of a newfound aspiration.

The first stage of Gainey’s football career ended nearly a decade ago when he graduated from Nansemond River, where he’d played tight end and quarterback. Cherry, on the other hand, never strapped on a pair of shoulder pads until he had long since received his high school diploma.


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&uot;Basketball was always my sport,&uot; said the Maryland native, now a resident of Driver. His brother Savoye was the gridiron star in the family, burning up the field of John Yeates High School in the late 1980s and then going on to play at Norfolk State University.

In 1991, Savoye found a spot on the semipro Tidewater Sharks, and asked his brother to give a new sport a shot. &uot;I didn’t know much about football then,&uot; Cherry said. &uot;I was a lot smaller – I didn’t have this.&uot; He indicated his girth, the ideal build for a top lineman.

When he started practicing with the Sharks, Cherry was told that he could be something of an all-purpose star. &uot;They wanted me to play offense and defense,&uot; he said. &uot;I started blocking the defenders and breaking through the offense. I’d never played against the quality of players that I was up against.&uot;

While at Yeates, Savoye befriended Gainey’s brother Michael, himself a football star who’d later play at East Carolina University. Through their own siblings, Shawn (now a Suffolk barber) and Sean got to be friends.

One day last year, Cherry asked Gainey if he’d like to become a Destroyer, to which the Sharks changed in the late 1990s. Gainey decided to take one more shot at one of his favorite pastimes.

&uot;Playing at Nansemond River was a great high school experience,&uot; he said. &uot;Being on the (1993) state runner-up team was a lot of fun. I decided to play the game at least one more time.&uot;

&uot;Every season, I start daydreaming about playing again,&uot; said Gainey, still a regular in the Nansemond River stands. &uot;This was my last chance, and I took it.&uot;

Cherry may still take his even farther – after not playing a game until adulthood, he’s already received a Canadian Football League tryout.

&uot;If I thought I had the potential to play in the NFL, I’d try,&uot; he said. &uot;They usually go for players who have experience in high school and college, and I understand that. But I’m still here, living my little dream through minor league football.&uot;