Who’s ready for some football? The top-rated semi-pro league in the country is gearing up for their sixth season as the Sussex County Warhawks take on the defending champion New Castle Saints at Rehoboth Elementary on Saturday, Feb. 26.
The Diamond semi-pro football league owns 23 teams, ranging from New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania. The league has grown so much in popularity that North Carolina and Florida hope to join the league next year, according to organizers.
The local Warhawks have trimmed the fat over the off-season and look to make some noise in their season opener this weekend.
“We cut guys who aren’t dedicated to winning. This is the first year that our team has fielded a full team at 35 guys. We still have 15 on the waiting list,” said Warhawks owner Tina Dennis.
Many of these semi-pro players were local standouts in high school, but for one reason or another didn’t go on to college to play.
Just because these players didn’t make the big time doesn’t mean that there isn’t still that possibility.
Pro scouts have scoured the league looking for the next big talent. In 1991, Phoenix Cardinals drafted Eric Swann, a former semi-pro player with no college experience, with the 6th overall pick.
“Twenty-three guys from our league have been offered contracts to the NFL, NFL Europe, CFL, and the Arena football league,” said Dennis.
The game versus the New Castle Saints this weekend should be a prequel to a post season match-up.
“They have very disciplined defense and nobody scores on them so it should be good to see how we play,” said Butch Yocum, assistant coach for the Warhawks. “We have practiced hard, but it will be good to find out what we have talent wise.”
The revamped Warhawks team maintains their strength in the trenches, returning their big offensive and defensive lines. A physical offensive and defensive front controls the tempo of the game by running the ball, and that may prove the difference for the Warhawks this year.
“We have three very good running backs this year. Each of them has their own running style so it should keep the defensive off balance,” said Yocum.
With some luck the Warhawks three-headed monster might resemble the University of Southern California’s running attack of LenDale White, Reggie Bush and Herschel Dennis.
On the defensive side of the ball, expect a bunch of train wrecks.
The Warhawks duo of defensive playmakers Tremond Conway and Jonathan Frase hope to regain and surpass their last season’s success. Conway led the Warhawks defense last season with 36 tackles and four sacks, while Frase gathered 23 tackles and three sacks. Together they combined to collect two interceptions, three forced fumbles, six recovered fumbles, five passes defended and a touchdown.
The road to the top of the Diamond football league starts for the local Sussex County Warhawks this weekend.
With their re-forged roster, the Warhawks look to recapture the success of four years ago when they finished with a 7-1 record.
“We had a lot of players come back to our team this past year. A lot of guys thought our team was going to fold, but were still here — and stronger,” said Yocum.