Minor league football team enjoying successful first season
|Shown are the Ohio Golden Knights.|
|Photo courtesy of Ohio Golden Knights|
“Most of the athletes on the team come from Akron Public Schools or local colleges,” said Jermaine Campbell, the Knights’ owner and a player. “Players are not paid, but what they do get is the chance to be seen by colleges and professional leagues that may have passed them up before.”
Giving players the opportunity to be seen is one of the key reasons for starting the team, Campbell stated.
“I created the team to give kids a platform to show colleges and other pro levels that they can play,” he said. “Most of the players didn’t get enough of a chance in college or in high school and needed to be molded into better players.”
Campbell said the team features a former NFL player in linebacker/strong safety Kirk Belgrade.
“He went to Kent State [University] and was on the Atlanta Falcons,” Campbell said. “They cut him, and he needed somewhere to keep playing and to keep getting game tape on himself.”
The Golden Knights have a 50-man roster and activate 40 players for a game. The team’s roster is complete for this season, Campbell said, but new players likely will be added next season.
“We have our rosters full this year, but for next year we’ll be holding tryouts this September or October. The dates are still to be determined. It depends on our playoff success,” he said. “If we happen to go all the way, the championship is in Orlando, Fla., and we’d have to plan for all that. But then we’d be able to turn around and see when we want to have our tryouts.”
There are 90 teams nationwide in the Gridiron Developmental Football League (G.D.F.L.), which plays by NFL rules. The Golden Knights are in the six-team Ohio Valley Division, which is divided into the North and the South.
“We are one of three teams in the South part of the division,” Campbell said. “The other two teams are the Akron Silverhawks and the Columbus Gladiators.”
Campbell, who is 23 years old, played five years of semi-pro football before starting the Ohio Golden Knights.
“I went to Garfield High School along with [NFL player Chris] ‘Beanie’ Wells and didn’t get a lot of playing time there. I decided not to play college ball. I went to college for web design,” he said. “But I have always been an ambitious person, and I have always wanted to make a difference in my community. That’s the main reason I started this team — to see 50 young men do something positive instead of negative with their lives.”
According to Campbell, the team’s name came to him when he “just started saying different names out loud.”
“The colors were pretty easy. Because of the name, I chose gold. The black part came because the night is black — so it’s like golden night, but the knight part is really with a ‘k.’ It just all came together,” he said. “The reason I chose Ohio is that I didn’t know which city would accept my team. But the Akron area was always my first choice because I was born and raised in Akron.”
The team’s head coach is Steve Smith, who has 18 years’ experience as a head coach in the Baltimore area.
“He actually moved up here to coach the team,” Campbell said.
The Golden Knights currently are out to a 3-1 record.
“We won the first three games 40-6, 52-0 and 57-0,” Campbell said. “In our fourth game, we lost to the Buckeye Bearcats — our biggest rivals.”
The team rebounded June 16 with a 40-37 win over the Columbus Gladiators.
Campbell credits his team’s early success to “hard work and dedication.”
“I recruited the entire team myself. I stuck to it and got some of the best athletes in the area,” he said. “I got players that most colleges and other teams in the area overlooked. I just gave them a shot, and they worked very hard and came together as a team.”
The regular season features 10 games, all of which take place on Saturdays at 7 p.m. The Golden Knights will be on the road June 23 and 30, but will return home July 7, when the Golden Knights will take on the Buckeye Bearcats.
Tickets for games cost $7, and children 12 and younger are admitted for free with a paying adult. Home games are played at Copley High School, 3797 Ridgewood Road.
“Playing there is great,” Campbell said. “The staff there is wonderful.”
“We’re always looking for volunteers and sponsors,” he said. “I want to see the city help to support this. These are young men doing something positive with their lives.”
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