By Jeffery Armstrong
Football season is coming to Henry County a little earlier than usual.
Just about a month before the Eagle's Landing Golden Eagles high school football team plays a home game, the Georgia Rage, a semi-pro football team, will take over their stadium.
The Rage will host the Charlotte (N.C.) Cardinals at Eagle's Landing High's stadium this Saturday evening at 7 p.m. The team will be looking for its first win of the season Saturday the Rage is currently 0-2.
Tickets for Saturday's game are $10 for adults and kids 12 and under are admitted for free. After the team gets enough for expenses, the rest of the funds gathered will be given to the Eagle's Landing High football program.
"We're not in this for the money," said Paul Sieli, one of the team's owners. "We have a good relationship with the school and we want to help their football team out this year."
Sieli said the Rage, which has been around since 1999, merged with the Henry County Mavericks early this year to form a new and improved Georgia Rage.
"The Georgia Rage is a semi-professional team that is designed to help those guys who didn't get college scholarships and the like a chance to make it to a higher pro league," said Sieli, who owns Atlanta RV on Jonesboro Road. "These guys can possibly get tryouts for the Canadian and Arena football leagues. College and NFL scouts have been at our games."
As is the case with minor league football teams, money is at a minimum. The athletes don't get paid to play; they compete for the love of the game and for the chance to play pro football in the U.S. or abroad.
"Moving on to a higher league is the main reason why everybody plays minor league football. Since you don't get paid, you have to have a love for the game," said Rage linebacker Jeremy Williford, a 1996 Stockbridge High graduate. "This is my first year on the Rage and I'm enjoying it. It's a great experience for me."
Williford, who during the day runs Acme Hardwood & Tile in McDonough with his father, found out about the Rage from a friend and decided to join the team with him. He hasn't played organized football since his senior year at Stockbridge.
"I told myself that if I ever got the chance to strap on the pads again, I would do it," said Williford, 26.
Sieli, the other team owner John Christmas and Rage head coach Neil Bennett all stressed that the Rage is still accepting any athletes who want to play. The fee for players is only $75 and there's a $20 traveling fee for out-of-town games.
"I want to let everyone know that the Georgia Rage is the best way for these overlooked athletes to get exposure," said Christmas, a sports attorney. "Minor league football helps these guys develop skills that will help them as they aspire to play pro football."
The Rage will automatically qualify for the playoffs this year since they were the 2003 National Football Alliance Southeastern champions.
Even though the Rage has gotten off to a slow start, Christmas expects the team to compete down the stretch. Local players on the team include Cornell Hardy, a Morrow High graduate who played with former NFL player Andre Hastings, and Dernardoe Spear, who played at Eagle's Landing last season.