Semipro football invading Tri-Cities

By Matt Hill
STAR STAFF
mhill@starhq.com

   Local football players are getting a chance to relive their glory days thanks to a new semi-pro league.
   The Mountain Empire Athletic Association is giving former high school players and even past college players a chance to play football again.
   The league has four teams in it. There are teams in Scott County, Wise County and Lee County, Va., as well as the team based in our area called the Tennessee Warriors.
   "It's a league for all the area high school players that didn't go to college or maybe they graduated and didn't go any farther to show their athletic abilities, and hopefully they'll step up to the next level," Tennessee Warriors head coach Shannon Simpson said.
   League owner Jim Thomas ran a very successful women's league this spring called the American Women's Football League. This brought some feedback about possibly having a men's league.
   Thomas looked into it, and decided to roll with it.
   "We had so much feedback of guys wanting to get a league together," Simpson said. "We were notified that there wasn't such a league around here, so we decided we would start one up. So far it's been great. Everybody's been showing up left and right, and things have been falling into place."
   Simpson thinks that some of the players on the team might have gotten overlooked by colleges or for some reason couldn't go through with playing college football.
   "Some of the guys have just been a victim of circumstances," Simpson said. "They might have gone to school and not been able to finish up for some reason or maybe not been able to afford to go to school. It's just a good chance for them to showcase their abilities. We've got high quality athletes out here.
   "A lot of the players that fell through the cracks will get recognition. They're going to be playing against high quality athletes. We'll have people from Canadian Football League and the Arena Leagues checking the ball players out. This is really for more than just a trophy. This is to take it to the next level."
   Whether or not the league will be accepted by fans remains to be seen. Most of the games will be played on Saturdays, the day that colleges play.
   Simpson doesn't see that as a problem.
   "We're competing with UT and Virginia Tech and big schools like that," Simpson said. "It's really hard to compete with them, but hopefully on some of the off-weekends when the colleges don't play they'll come and check our games out. I'm sure once they see one or two of the games they'll be really interested.
   "You can always tape a game on TV and watch it later. This stuff here will be live, and it will be football right up to that level. We're going to have giveaways through the season. We're going to give away items donated by local merchants and sponsors. Hopefully, that can entice some people in. Once we get them there one time we know they'll come back."
   Simpson not only believes that this team will have no trouble trying to compete for fan support with colleges, but also thinks the Warriors could beat some college teams.
   "I'm sure they can," Simpson said. "We haven't gotten into pads yet, but from what I've seen so far we can stand toe-to-toe with a lot of the colleges in the area. It will be above the high school level and right there at the college level."
   Former Happy Valley place-kicker Travis Brown is one of the players on the team. He believes there is a lot of talent on the team and in the league.
   "A league like this gives a bunch of guys who graduated high school an opportunity to play football, even though they decided not to play college football or went some other route," Brown said. "And you catch a few guys that have fallen through the cracks. We're very fortunate to have some pretty good athletes out here that I think would have been pretty good college ball players. I think we're capable of playing on an East Tennessee State level of football if it comes together."
   Brown tried out for ETSU's football team last year, but says this is more enjoyable.
   "You talk about professional football being the end of the fun," Brown said. "I would say that this is a little bit more fun. In the college ranks it's a little bit more structured, and out here we're just looking to have a good time and play some pretty serious football in the process."
   Former Sullivan North quarterback Eric Vaughn is hoping he can get noticed by scouts in this league.
   "Everybody out here has their reasons to be here," Vaughn said. "Whether they didn't go to college or they went to college and got cut short or they've been all the way through college and they want to go to the next level. This is a good stepping stone for all of us to try and get out to the next level. If anybody on the team is just playing for themselves, then we treat them the same."
   The season starts on Sept. 28 and runs until the championship game on Dec. 14. Just where the Warriors will play is to be determined at a later date.
   Anyone interested in trying out for the Tennessee Warriors should contact Head Coach Shannon Simpson at (423)-357-0309.