While most football fans concentrate on the NCAA and NFL, others are actually concentrating on playing the game in semi-pro leagues around the country. One such team is the Capital City Seahawks of the Washington, DC area. Luc Polglaze, who is a coach with the Seahawks, will chronicle the 2016 season with this team to give you an inside look at what it means to be a semi-professional football player.
Some games are destined to define a season.
For the Capital City Seahawks, their road game against the Albany Metro Mallers was always going to be that game. The Seahawks’ intent was to avenge last year’s two losses and, at the same time, solidify their own standing as the team to beat in the World Football Federation. And, with both teams at 2-0, they were poised for a tough game.
In practice, slot receiver Gary Hammond played the role of Albany QB / WR C.J. Tarver, a highly-respected talent who has played professionally in the Canadian Football League as well as in the Continental Indoor Football League. Everywhere Tarver has gone, he has lined up wide at receiver and returner. Except with Albany, the team has utilized his dangerous open field abilities at QB to create a menacing runner.
The day of the game dawned bright and early, as players adjusted Beats headphones and settled into their seats for the bus ride to Albany.
And then the wheels fell off.
The first indication of an issue was the jolt the bus took, then the slowing departure it made from the freeway as it shuddered to a halt. A wheel had escaped the axle itself and bounded into the meadow nearby. Despite the search efforts of a couple of linebackers, it could not be found.
And so the team regrouped at a nearby McDonald’s in the small hamlet of Saugerties. To the unending merriment of the coaching staff, the employees took the team to be the NFL’s Seahawks (although how the Seattle squad could end up in upstate New York remains entirely unclear). The players posed for pictures as accommodations were quickly arranged, the matchup with Albany officially canceled. The Seahawks and Metro Mallers would not meet this day, despite all the intense preparation.
[dt_divider style=”thick” /]The Grounds Crew and Uncle Luc
As events transpired, I made the homeward journey separately from the main body of the team. Instead of the team bus, I was cramped into the center seat of a straining, underpowered rental car bearing four-fifths of the offensive line. Our quick calculations made there to be over half a ton of football players, with a single defensive backs coach tucked in the middle.
It’s not uncommon for semi-pro teams to have one standout position group that merits its own title, much like the NFL’s own Legion of Boom. Commonly known Washington, DC area position group nicknames include the Trench Mob (DMV Elite offensive line) and the Unit (Seahawks secondary).
The Seahawks’ offensive line is referred to as the “Grounds Crew”.
The eight hour ride was characterized by a sense of humor that can only be recognized as “high offensive lineman.” It’s perhaps inevitable that I acquired the nickname “Uncle Luke” after the well-known hip-hop artist who was involved in the pay-to-play scandal at the University of Miami. Lost in translation perhaps was my own name’s spelling “Luc.” The conversations roamed quickly as we looked for a lunch stop.
Right Guard Jason Garrett, scrolling through his phone: “What about Burgers and Bacon?”
Right Tackle James Randolph, from behind the wheel: “Is that a restaurant or a heart attack?”
Left Tackle Brandon Somerville: “Just get me out of this car.”
James Randolph: “Oh, we rolling now. Look at this f***ing hill, bruh.”
Eventually, the Grounds Crew – avec Luc – arrived at a restaurant. I will assume the reader is unlikely to have ever eaten a meal with an offensive line, so let me provide a brief culinary description.
A stack of pancakes, a three-egg omelette, biscuits and gravy, and a side of bacon.
For comparison, I was labeled a “gluten-free-ass vegan” for having a burger with avocado, bacon, and fries.
Seldom has so much disappeared so fast. The potential of a culinary TV show focusing on linemen should not be discounted.
Every semi-pro player or coach styles themselves an amateur comedian. Every. One.
Sidelines are generally a running stand up comedy and improv bit. Whether it’s players imitating the action on the grounds, or someone providing a running commentary, especially when the lead is large enough to reasonably ensure victory. The Grounds Crew is no different. The ride home provided an excellent format for all forms of jokes and stories, often centering around food.
Once safely back in the DC area, the regrouped Seahawks quelled their disappointment and refocused themselves on their next opponents.
[dt_divider style=”thick” /]Saturday, July 30th, 8:52pm
Torn and discarded tape strewn across the floor. Clumps of wet turf and smears of puddles. Even the stern, impassive lockers seemed to look down and disapprove. The room was still, except for a player around a corner repeatedly hitting his helmet with his clenched fist. The sound reverberated as Head Coach James Crowell strode to the middle of the locker room.
His message was simple. “When you disrespect the game, the game disrespects you. All week, you bulls***ted in practice. Now, you’re bulls***ting in the game. That’s unacceptable.”
The game began innocuously not three hours earlier. It was marked by the usual humor in warm-ups. This day’s target was DT / DE Ibidapo Ojo, a well-muscled Nigerian with a good sense of humor and well-honed strength up the middle. With stints in the Canadian and Arena Football Leagues after a standout career at Alabama A&M, Ojo (as he is exclusively known) knows his way around a football field. Today, however, he is the subject of ridicule by the coaching staff.
Defensive Coordinator “Twin” Trowell sizes him up and chuckles. “You look like one of them Madden create-a-players, man. You all muscled and s***.” Someone shouts out, “Turn a little in place like they do, man,” and Ojo complies. It’s too much for the gathered defensive players, who hoot and holler as they fall over one another at the imitated video game rotation.
Today the Seahawks face the Washington Bulldawgs, led by Capital City’s defensive coordinator of yesteryear, Coach Reggie White. This is the Bulldawgs first season in existence, and they are generally acknowledged as not being up to par by the standards of the rest of the league.
Both teams took the field to stretch, and Coach White chatted with the Seahawks coaches at midfield before both separated toward their own sidelines.
Then the rain started.
Gently at first, then increasing in intensity. At kickoff it had slackened off, but halfway through the first quarter it returned with a vengeance, bucketing down so much water that the film of the first quarter is almost unwatchable. The sideline could barely see the center of the field, a truly legendary downpour. After an early drive in the rain, the Seahawks scored and then stopped the Bulldawgs again as it once again intensified.
Then things started going downhill.
Towards the end of the first quarter, Seahawks QB Ricky Dobbs Jr. leaned back and threw a slant. In the elements, it slipped through the grasping fingers of the receiver and into the air, where it was plucked away by a Bulldawgs defender. The Bulldawgs celebrated their first and ten in the Seahawks’ red zone. A few plays later, the Bulldawgs called up a designed run stretching outside left. The handoff was late, and the RB improvised away from the play, to his right. One missed tackle led to another in the secondary, where a linebacker had been blocked out of the way at the point of attack. And a Bulldawg touchdown – the first points the stifling Capital City defense had surrendered all season.
The Bulldawg lead was 8-6 15 minutes later when a nearby lightning bolt ended action for the day. Play would resume the following Sunday with the Seahawks on a 4th and 15 at the Bulldawg 20 with about 10 minutes remaining in the second quarter.
The dejected Seahawks trailed the jubilant Bulldawgs down the tunnel where Coach Crowell awaited in the locker room. Their mood was as frustrated as his was solemn. “To call someone bums, you have to make them bums first. We did not show up today, fellas. We did not play like champions today. We did not make them bums today.”
Then he dismissed them with a simple, “See you at practice.”
[dt_divider style=”thick” /]Bulldawgs Gameday, Part 2
Few positions may be as valuable in semi-pro as a kicking specialist. A rare breed, they typically handle both kicking and punting responsibilities for the team. The previous week, the conditions had been far too treacherous to try placekicking, to say nothing of the general unreliability of front line blocking for attempts.
Today, however, the Seahawks had both K / Ps Chaz Sorensen and Ryan Linehan. The Seahawks decided to just kick on the resumption of play. Through warm-ups, the specialists competed for the chance to attempt the 37-yarder. Sorensen won the opportunity. The team lined up… the snap… the hold… the kick… sailing through the uprights from 37 yards. The Seahawks sideline erupted as Sorensen leaped and pumped his fist. A week’s worth of weight had been lifted from their shoulders as the score moved to 9-8. From there, the squad began a systematic victory over the disheartened Bulldawgs.
Late in the fourth quarter, wide receiver Ray Mack finally got his opportunity. Injured on the third offensive play of the season, Mack’s separated AC joint has held him out.
He’s been itching to get in on the action.
Coach Crowell eventually relents and lets him hit the field, with the caveat that he can run only fly routes. That suited the speedy Mack just fine. His 40-yard touchdown on his first snap was the capstone to a 31-8 victory. The Bulldawgs did not score again.
At the end of the game, Coach Crowell shepherded the team together and emphasized once more the importance of treating every game seriously. “Today, we made them bums. Last week we did not.” The Seahawks break the huddle with a shouted 1-2-3-HAWKS and hit the locker room, an entirely different team from just one week before.
Follow Luc on Twitter @LucPolglaze.