Some football players aren’t ready to give up the sport after their high school or college careers come to an end.
Now, in Blount County, they don’t have to thanks to the development of a new semi-pro football team, the Alcoa Alloys.
“This is one of those ‘build it and they’ll come’ type of things,” said Craig Brown, the team’s owner. “I hope there will be buy-in with it. You’re actually going to get some really good football.”
The squad’s inaugural season with the Independent American Football League (IAFL) will begin this spring. Brown, a former Heritage High School player, franchised the team after noticing a demand for playing opportunities among alumni from local schools.
As the area coordinator for Alumni Football USA, Brown developed connections to get the semi-pro team started. He is a guard for the Alloys. Though not a starter, Brown is the oldest player on the team at age 56.
“Through that job, I get to talk to a lot of guys who did not get to play college ball or who did play college ball but, for some reason or another, never went farther,” Brown said of organizing the alumni games. “A bunch of them kept saying, ‘Man, I wish I could do this all the time. I wish there was a league.’”
So Brown did his research and ran across the IAFL — a league that includes 33 teams across Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, Virginia and the Carolinas. The season involves playing in eight games beginning in March. The championship is slated for June 15 at Finley Stadium in Chattanooga.
Brown quickly got to work sorting out the details, such as finding a home field, filling coaching positions, recruiting players and establishing a mascot.
He got his inspiration for the team name from the Pittsburgh Steelers and their representation of the city’s dominant steel industry. Alcoa was founded by the Aluminum Company of America, and aluminum is an alloy material.
Thus, the Alcoa Alloys were born.
The tentative plan is for the team to play its home games at Alcoa High School, which boasts a turf field that isn’t at risk of getting torn up during the spring.
It’s not a done deal. There are some hurdles involving liability insurance and getting the necessary approval from the director of schools. But Alcoa athletic director Josh Stephens said the school would “love to entertain that opportunity.”
“I think it’s a win-win for both parties,” Stephens said. “They’d have a field to play on, and we’d have an opportunity to raise money for our football program through our concession stands.”
As for a head coach, Brown looked no farther than Rod Jackson. Jackson has deep roots in Blount County athletics, coaching in the area for more than 40 years. He coached Heritage in the alumni game versus William Blount on Oct. 6 and even coached some of the players on the semi-pro squad when they played peewee sports.
“I said, ‘Hey, you’re the natural guy to coach this semi-pro team. What do you think?’” Brown said. “He didn’t even think about it. He said, ‘I was hoping you would ask me.’”
Jackson’s son and grandson are also on the team. Evident is Brown and Jackson’s earnest passion for football and developing the program.
“I don’t want to sound like any of the other coaches, but I really love this game,” Jackson said. “My passion, the players’ passion for this game lives on. To be able to get an opportunity to continue doing something that you’re passionate about is an exceptional opportunity, and I think they realize that.”
Brown said recruiting has been the easy part. There are currently 75 players on the roster and about 40 showing up for preseason practices, which are held from 2 to 4 p.m. on Sundays at the Maryville Junior High School practice field. The team will begin practicing with pads in January.
The Alloys are still accepting players. No one will be cut from the team.
“If you want to be an Alcoa Alloy, you’re welcome,” Jackson said. “Now, each position will be highly competitive. If you want to play, you have to show up and show us you’re the person that needs to be in that spot when the whistle blows.”
Brown expects the team’s size to ebb and flow during the off-season. While interest in the team is on the rise, football remains a rough sport, especially for players whose bodies might be feeling the effects of time.
Still, some athletes can’t pull themselves away. Zachariah Thomason is one of them.
“I am dumbfounded by how much Craig (Brown) has been able to accomplish in this time,” said Thomason, a William Blount alum who will serve as a punter, strong safety and the special teams coach for the Alloys.
Thomason is entering his fourth season of semipro football after playing for the Knoxville Knights for two years and the Tennessee White Lightnin for one. Both of those programs are based in Knoxville.
“In those years, I noticed there were a lot of Blount County boys who were going to Knoxville to play football,” Thomason said. “I had the idea that it would be great to have something in our hometown for guys to play and not have to drive so far – bring that talent together and not spread it out over multiple teams in Knoxville.”
The Alcoa Alloys might be a new team, but Jackson expects big things from his squad.
“All the teams that played against each other for years are coming together for one passion, forming one team that I think is going to be premier in this league,” Jackson said. “The energy and dedication they bring to the game – we have one goal in mind, and that’s to be in Chattanooga on June 15, 2019.”