According to the NCAA and www.businessinsider.com, the percentage of high school players that compete on the professional level is a miniscule 0.08 percent, while the percentage of college players on the NCAA level that compete in the professional ranks is a slim 1.7 percent. The numbers alone indicate that if you are able to play professional football or even play football outside of college, you are one of the select few.
In Bolivar County, a team has been formed that can give players a chance to play football after their high school and college years. A semiprofessional football team known as “The Bolivar County Outlaws” has been formed. The Outlaws are in their first year of existence. They are a member of the Magnolia Football League, which is also in its first year of existence. The other teams in the league are the Delta Blaze (Greenwood), the Forrest County Spartans (Hattiesburg), the Lions (Pearl), the Pike County (McComb) Iron Horse and the Mississippi Maddogs (Jackson). The first game of the season for the Outlaws will be on May 4 when they take on the Spartans. The team and the league are for players ages 18 and over and the games for the Outlaws will be played at East Side or Broad Street.
According to Outlaws head coach Jeremy Patterson, the plans to put together a semipro football team started last year. The process of getting the team together has been a tough one, but the hard work has started to pay off.
“Once we put the work into it, everything developed,” Outlaws head coach Jeremy Patterson said. “We put flyers out and did what we could and people wanted to play ball again. They wanted their second chance.”
The chance to participate on the team and in the league isn’t just a good opportunity for the players, but also for Patterson. Patterson, at a young 16 years of age, is a sophomore student at East Side High School. He played junior high football at D.M. Smith Middle School and a year of high school ball at East Side. During his playing days, he suffered knee injuries, which forced him to quit playing the sport.
Patterson said him being named the head coach was something that happened by chance.
“I was going out to the baseball field one day and these guys were out there practicing,” Patterson said. “I was just out there talking about football, and I was asked if I wanted to coach. I was coaching defense for a while, and I got promoted as the head coach.”
Patterson said the players have embraced him as head coach.
“My father was a student of the game and my grandfather was,” Patterson said. “I grew up around football all of my life. At first they were like, ‘Oh my God, my coach is younger than us.’ Once they knew me and found out how much I knew about football they just fell in love with me. They call me all the time, and they talk to me and just love the way I do things.”
Patterson said the players have a pure love of the game.
“They are so passionate,” Patterson said. “You can see it in their face everyday. They want to be here. They go on the track at East Side and they can run. We’re ready for that first game.”
The players on the Outlaws team are also focused on making a positive impact in the community.
Emmanuel Smith, 23, said playing on this team is a chance that he plans to take advantage of.
“I’m very excited,” Smith said. “I see it as a second opportunity to show the people in the Delta what we can do as a community. We want to come out and show a positive male role model and let them know that there is something out here to do.”
Smith said being able to play at this stage of his life is a dream come true.
“After high school, I didn’t tryout for a college team and I just wanted to come out here and show what I got,” Smith, who played high school football at East Side High School, said. “I wanted to put my best foot forward.”
Kendrick Burnice, who played college football at Miles College in Fairfield, Ala., is also making the most of his chance to play again.
“To get the chance to play football again, it’s amazing and it’s also a huge dream to continue to play football until I hang it up,” Burnice, 24, said. “Playing on the team is fun. I’m getting to know people that I haven’t known or got a chance to meet in life. I was raised in Alabama, and now I’m back here. We all understand our circumstances. We have to play as one so we can best them all.”
Burnice, who will be playing wide receiver, also echoed’s Smith’s sentiments about wanting to have a positive impact in the community.
“Our plan is to get out and spend more time with youth,” Burnice said. “We want to be a big brother to them and show them certain techniques to better themselves as athletes and students.”