Another chance

Published 8:27 pm Saturday, October 20, 2012

Dominique Artis of Suffolk advances upfield as a receiver at Lake Kennedy Park on Saturday during practice with the new semi-pro football team called the Suffolk Chargers.

Players hope semi-pro team will revive careers

On a small field at Lady Kennedy Park, a semi-pro football team known as the Suffolk Chargers is beginning to take form.

The team represents an opportunity for men ages 18 and up to play in front of college and even pro scouts.

Angela Harper of Suffolk, who is the owner of the team, explains the history of semi-pros.

Suffolk’s Angela Harper is the owner of a new semi-pro football team called the Suffolk Chargers. Harper is paying out of pocket to give her players the opportunity to perform before college and pro scouts, but she is also ardently seeking sponsorship for the team.

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“They used to pay the players to play, and you had some players that were in the NFL, and they came out, they would end up going semi-pro, and it was paying, but then they stopped,” she said. “And now the young men have to pay to play.”

For the 44 players on the Chargers’ roster, though, playing is currently free of charge as long as they have their high school diploma or a GED; Harper is footing the bill for them.

“I don’t care how many of them there is, I really want to see them make something out of themselves,” she said. “Because a lot of them, they went to high school, some of them really didn’t have the grades to get a scholarship or something from colleges, or some of them couldn’t afford to go. And to see the colleges come out and look at them, and you never know who might get scouted and get a scholarship. Just to see them make it, I’m happy.”

Harper is trying to decide which league to join, but she is leaning toward the East Coast Football Association.

While Harper is also searching for a home field for the Chargers, their road games will take them to places like North Carolina, Maryland and even Texas. If they were to make it that far, the championship game would be in Florida.

Local colleges like Norfolk State University and N.C. State will be sending scouts to games, and Harper said NFL scouts also are expected.

She is going try to bring her players to the pro scouts as well.

“The Redskins have (walk-on) tryouts in April of each year,” she said. “And I’m trying to get the money saved up where I can carry these boys to that.”

In return for these opportunities, Harper expects the players to be charitable in a variety of ways, including mentorship.

“They have to be a mentor for the young boys that play sports,” she said. “I have a gentleman that came to me that had just started up a basketball league, and he was actually looking for mentors for his young boys.”

“I’m going to go to the social services and get families where they can go to and give gifts and toys to the families, for the ones that are not able to have Christmas. And I really want them to help in the community.”

The team held tryouts at the SYAA fields at the end of September and beginning of October, and players came from Franklin, Portsmouth, Smithfield, Suffolk, Virginia Beach and Windsor. The age range was 18 to 45.

Rick Gregory of Suffolk, 22, who played at Lakeland and King’s Fork, explained what the opportunity to play with the Chargers means to him.

“I’ve been playing since high school, and they give me an opportunity to come out here and show off my skills before I hit the age limit with the NCAA, and I think a lot of guys are on the same page like that,” he said. “Hopefully we can get together good game film and send it off to a college and possibly walk on at that college and pursue an education.”

Suffolk’s Dominique Artis, 20, gets another chance to play football after seeing only the offseason at Chowan University.

“It means a lot to me, because after school, I went to college, but I couldn’t afford it, so after a year I had to come out,” he said.

“It means a lot, opens up a lot of doors, gets my head on track, keeps people out of the streets — everything,” La’Shawn “Josh” Walker of Franklin, 20, said. “It’s just something positive to do with your life.”

Harper, who has a day job as a customer service representative for Capital One, said the team has enjoyed valuable contributions from Ray Carter of Winning Edge Sports, but is in dire need of further sponsorship.

The Chargers will continue practicing on Wednesdays and Saturdays through the winter leading up to the start of the season in March.