Semi-pro team forms in Natchez; readies for season

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 19, 2006

NATCHEZ &8212; Proof that there is no end to football season has surfaced once again.

Although there has not been an official announcement made, Natchez will have its own semi-pro football team for the first time in city history.

Two weeks ago coach John Johnson and 20 or more players from Natchez, Ferriday and Vidalia began practicing as members of the newly formed Natchez River Pirates.

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&8220;I&8217;m very excited. We&8217;re about to make history, when we play our first game July 8,&8221; Johnson said. &8220;We believe it will be something positive for the area, and for a lot of these guys this is a second chance to play football.&8221;

The River Pirates will play a 10-game schedule as members of the Southern American Football League &8212; a sort of football minor league for players who have failed to find a home in either the Canadian or Arena Football Leagues.

But don&8217;t let that fool you into thinking there is a lack of talent to be found in the SAFL. Prior to joining the New Orleans Saints in 2001, New Orleans native Michael Lewis, played for a short time with the league before finding his way onto a roster in the AFL, CFL and eventually the NFL.

Just like Lewis, there are a number of players on this year&8217;s River Pirates team who have aspirations of playing football at a higher level.

Johnson said that his current roster is comprised of players, whose aspirations are as diverse as their age and background.

&8220;We have guys out here who are trying to use this as a way to make it to the next level,&8221; Johnson said. &8220;Some guys want to use this as a way to get a college scholarship, or maybe even a chance to play in the CFL. I am going to do everything I can to help them with that.

&8220;The level of talent we have out here is pretty good. We have a lot of players who played at the college level, and some who had the talent but never got that scholarship offer. For those guys I am going to do everything I can to see that they get that chance.&8221;

One of those players is River Pirate quarterback Charles Cauthern, 19, who once played for Natchez High School, is hoping to walk on at Alcorn State this fall.

&8220;Right now I am taking summer classes at Alcorn so that I can be eligible to walk-on this fall,&8221; Cauthern said. &8220;We have some guys who played wide receiver in college and I am using this as a way to learn what I can about the position from them.&8221;

Other local natives that Johnson said he believes have a chance to play at the next level include Alvin &8220;Noonie&8221; Gaylor, and Jermaine Hamilton.

Gaylor, 23, who once played at Southwest McComb Community College, but now works as a mechanic by day, is one player coach Johnson believes has a legitimate chance to be a star in the league.

&8220;He&8217;s one of those guys that really stands out,&8221; Johnson said. &8220;He has unbelievable speed &8212; in the 4.3 range &8212; and is someone I see as a player who scouts are going to take notice of once we start playing games.&8221;

Jermaine Hamilton, 26, was a stand-out linebacker for Natchez High School years ago, but his dreams of playing at a higher level got side-tracked when he joined the Navy.

&8220;I sort of put my football career on hold when I joined the Navy,&8221; Hamilton said. &8220;Now I&8217;m just want to make the most of the opportunity here to see if I can make it to the AFL or CFL.&8221;

A majority of the rest of the players on the River Pirates roster share that same sort of story, while others such as Bob Adams, 38, of Vidalia are playing solely for the love of the game.

&8220;Not everyone is out here, to try and get a scholarship or make a career out of this,&8221; Johnson said. &8220;We have a lot of guys who just want to use this as a chance to get in shape. We welcome those guys just the same.&8221;

Johnson went on to say that if there are any other former players in the area, who would like to try-out for the team to just come out to one of the team&8217;s practices held on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 6 p.m. on the Natchez High School football field. He says the team is especially in need of lineman, so if you have the right stuff please come out. Who knows? You might be a star.