Venom making a fresh start

By Jeff Birchfield

   JOHNSON CITY - A new home, a new coach and new results. That's what the Tennessee Venom football team is hoping for in 2002.
   The Venom has started preparation for their second season in the NWFL (National Women's Football League) with 35 players on the early January roster.
   "Last year our fan base was around an average of 1000 persons per game," said Venom team owner and general manager Susan Greenway on Sunday from the team's practice site at the Johnson City Boys & Girls Club. "This year we should have more of a fan base. There were almost 700,000 hits on the website in December. It's a great opportunity. We hope to stay here and go further."
   Exciting for residents of Carter County is that the team has moved their home games to Happy Valley High School, away from Volunteer High School in Church Hill.
   "We're thrilled that Happy Valley is giving us the opportunity to play there," said Greenway. "It is the nicest field in the whole area. You can compare it to Memorial Stadium or any of the other high school fields and Happy Valley has the best field."
   Warrior fans will be able to recognize some of the formations that the Venom plan on running. They will use the option from the wishbone and I-formations on offense and will use a wedge formation on the kicking game. The defense will consist more of a basic 4-3 than the 3-4 package that is generally relied on at Warrior Hill.
   The new head coach is Jeff Gethers, who played high school ball at Cross High School in South Carolina. Gethers played at N.C. State before being drafted by the Indianapolis Colts in 1986. While a neck injury cut short his playing career, it didn't diminish his love for the game.
   "When these girls asked me to come out and coach I was hesitant in the beginning," admitted Gethers. "After the first time stepping on that field, everything came back. My adreniline started flowing and pumping. I can't even sleep at night. When I close my eyes, all I see at night is plays running across my head."
   Playing in the NFL has helped Gethers tell his team what is needed to be successful. "It's the same game, but the attitude is different," said Gathers. "Hard work is what I bring from the NFL. They pay the price. There are only a few that make it there. Some people say they're overpaid, but they earn every cent. Most of them work at it 365 days a year."
   Greenway, a fullback on last year's before injuring her knee, is also an assistant coach besides serving in the general manager capacity. "When I tore my ACL, the head coach asked me if I would be interested in the offensive side of the ball and coordination," explained Greenway. "I learned that respect of the game. I had no idea what all that entailed.
   "I learned all the plays and how things were set up. It was quite interesting."
   Susan played soccer, basketball and softball at Greeneville High School, but growing up among five men who were all former football players, she always wanted the opportunity to compete on the gridiron.
   "I played the game all my life in the backyard," said Greenway. "You couldn't help but want to play. This was the only sport I didn't get the chance at. Actually getting to play here, I didn't know all the schemes and things. You get to see it all unfold and it was interesting. I wished we had this program five or ten years ago.
   "Now that we do have it, we have a lot of different athletes coming out. It's amazing at the ability some of the ladies have. Football is a totally different game. You have to have the physical ability to take a hit and to give a hit."
   The Tennessee Venom finished 4-6 in their first year. Last season, there were only 10 teams in the league, a number which has more than doubled to 21. The Venom will play in the Atlantic Division this season along with the Asheville Assault, D.C. Divas and Baltimore Burn. The regular season runs from April through June with the playoffs scheduled to begin on July 6.
   Improvement may come from better off-season conditioning than last year, when the team was still being formed. "Last year through the whole season, one lap was about as much as these girls could run," said Gethers. "Now, they are running four laps around the football field and everybody is going at it. There's a big improvement there. Conditioning is very important."
   Ladies who would like the opportunity to play professional football, there is still time to join the Venom. Tryouts for the team will take place on February 2-3 at the Johnson City Boys Club Football Field with a fee of $35.
   Information is available at the league's website where you can click on the Venom's icon. Practice times currently are Sundays 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. and Monday thru Thursday from 6:30 to 9:30. Greenway also mentioned that those interested are welcome to drop by and watch practice.
   "What we are looking for is the want to play," said quarterbacks coach Greenway. "It takes a lot of dedication and commitment. Just an all-around athlete that is capable of playing. We haven't run into anyone who isn't capable of doing that. We would like to think we can take someone that doesn't know the game that well and make them into a player they never thought they could be."
   We will preview the 2002 Venom at a later date that includes Gethers' bold statement that the NWFL Championship is the goal set for the team.