The Super Bowl was in February and College Football doesn’t start up until the fall. But in Florida, it’s still football season.
In a park, on a crisp, sunny Spring Day, one team is hard at work. Meet the Tallahassee Knights. The city’s minor league football team. For Knight’s co-owner, Rochelin Moise, starting up the team was a way to fulfill a dream.
“We started this team with the help of God pretty much, and just having faith. I started off one tryout [where] only 5 guys showed up. Second tryout: 25 guys showed up.”
The team was formed a year ago by Moise and his fiancé. He says he wanted to do something for the community, and decided to put up about $650 in fees to the Elite Amateur Football League to get started.
“It’s just my vision. I love the game of football. Trying to help these young guys also, letting them do something they love to do and, get them off the streets. Or rather, get them off the couch, I should say. Just give them something good, something positive to do around the area," Moise said.
The Knights belong to the EAFL—which includes franchises like the Putnam County Steelers and South Georgia Rams. Anyone can start a team. And there is no central governing body like the NCAA which oversees colleges.
“My brother asked me if I wanted to play, and it was something I always wanted to do so I decided to go ahead and join my boy...I like football. Just love it. It’s my sport," said Tallahassee Knights Team Captain Nick Sweet.
Sweet, who is from Quincy, has been playing football since he was in the sixth grade. He’s now 23 and is a caregiver for his father, who is wheelchair-bound.
For some of the younger players, there’s an additional incentive: a shot at the collegiate, or in some rare cases, even the professional level.
But part of the challenge of minor league football is that unlike the professional and college teams, these players have to pay their own way. Many Knights players have jobs outside of football. They pay for team fees, uniforms and travel. If they were to be paid, or have a team foot the bill, it would make them ineligible to play in college.
For other players, minor league football is a way to stay out of trouble.
That’s another issue minor league players have to overcome -- their backgrounds. The chances of a minor league player being recruited to a college is small. Even as many leagues take precautions to protect a player’s eligibility, scouts will still have questions: Why wasn’t a player recruited out of high school? What did their grades look like? Some players have had run-ins with law enforcement. And all of that means many college teams tend to shy away from minor league football players:
“You have to be, not only an outstanding player, but you have to know someone to go to a Division 1 college, and I’ll tell you why. They need everyone to be squeaky clean," said Terrance Page, President of the Florida Football Alliance, a statewide minor football league.
He says Division 1 programs aren’t likely to take a chance on a minor league player. But smaller schools, including community and junior colleges, are where minor league players have found success:
“You’re Division Three and smaller Division Two tend to take more chances. You may not get a full scholarship, you may get a partial scholarship, it just depends.”
Page says one Florida team that’s had players go on to compete at higher levels is Miami’s Magic City Bulls. A former Bulls’ player recently signed with a Canadian football league. Page says his league has been successful because many of its coaches and players are also high school and little league football coaches with connections to recruiters.
The Tallahassee Knights aren’t quite at that level yet. Co-owner Tequila Moise says she and her fiancé fellow co-owner Rochelin, are still learning the ropes of being team owners.
“Everything this year is focused on next year and being better. Before you can have a great team, it always starts with leadership and it always goes back to your organization and how you run it. And that’s where we are now.”
The Tallahassee Knights have just ended their season with a 6-6 record. Tryouts are set for June. Meanwhile, the Florida Football Alliance is currently in playoff mode, with an all-star game and Championship set for later in the month in Miami.