It's not just about the game
By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on July 25, 2010 1:50 AM
News-Argus Video Report
It is not about who they were or where they came from -- or the struggles they had to face to get where they are today.
It's not about how they managed to survive the dangers and lures of the streets.
And although they love the game they play, the final score isn't all that important -- even though each longs for the sense of pride they say accompanies victory.
For the members of the Goldsboro Falcons, an upstart semi-professional football team that practices daily on a middle school ballfield, their shared dream of a championship run is more about a second chance than a trophy.
But the players, like 26-year-old Arlo Davis, shy away from talking about just why they feel the need for a clean slate -- speaking about their past struggles only in generalities.
"There's no mistaking it at all. Some of us did come from terrible places," Davis said. "But the beauty of that is we're here to change. I think this will give everybody a new testament in their life, as far as righting their wrongs. Out here, they can be something different than they were."
The Falcons are gearing up for a schedule that will take them up and down the East Coast -- enduring intense heat and humidity for several hours a day to prove they are more than what people might see on the surface.
And while their season is still in doubt -- they don't yet have the $1,300 it will take to fund helmets, pads and uniforms -- none of the players question that they are doing something worthwhile.
"It gives the young people something to do with their time," said Marlon Sutton, 22. "You know, instead of gang-banging -- selling drugs and stuff like that."
But David Simmons, 30, is certain that the team provides its players with so much more.
"We're a family," he said.
One that Falcons head coach James Phillips says defines itself by mutual respect, love and a commitment to each other rarely found.
"We believe in each other. We trust each other. You know, it takes a lot to trust somebody and once you have that trust, nobody can break that bond," he said. "And we never fall down. We're always trying to pick each other up."
It was close to 100 degrees, and a brief thunderstorm earlier in the day failed to break the humidity, before the Falcons took to the Goldsboro Middle School field Wednesday evening.
Davis wasn't surprised by the high level of energy his teammates brought despite the conditions.
"This team has been up and down. That's why it's so strong," he said. "This team has been through a lot, but we're still standing."
Simmons believes the players' resolve is a result of the lessons they have learned from one another.
"No matter what life throws at you, keep looking forward," he said.
Phillips, too, is guided by those words.
But the coach has other sayings -- lines he uses on his players to encourage them to keep fighting on and off the field.
"You've got to go hard," he says. "Show them what you've got."
And after the team completed its stretches and sprints, Warren Taylor did just that.
The 18-year-old quarterback is one of the main reasons the Falcons are so confident in their chances at a Big East Alliance title.
"If he tucks the ball and decides to run, by the time you bat your eye, he's gone," Charles Hagens, 44, said. "That's lightning right there."
And the linemen charged with protecting Taylor, Hagens added, are just as impressive.
"Yeah, they're big," he said. "A line like that, yeah, that's what you need."
The Falcons form a tight circle and each player raises an arm into the air.
"Falcons on three. Falcons on three," one of them yells before, in one voice, his teammates reply.
"One, two, three, Falcons," they say.
Phillips is inspired by the unity on display.
"It's been hard, yes, but we always come together as a family. We'll never let anything split us apart," he said. "They are really dedicated about this game. They are ready to play and ready to win."
So he hopes that residents of the communities his players hail from will find the means to support his team -- to send them into competition with the equipment they will need to make their dreams come true.
"If we win, they'll have something they can sit in their room and say, 'I did this. I earned this,'" Phillips said.
And if they lose, at least the lessons learned on that simple ballfield might guide them toward a future most would have never seen as possible before they came together.
"Win or lose, we'll always love each other," he said. "That's what it's all about -- having each other's backs, you know? Something real is happening out here."