MORGANTOWN — University, Morgantown, Preston and Clay-Battelle are about four weeks from the start of their summer football camps as the regular season quickly approaches.
The same can be said for the WVU football team, which is eight weeks from its season-opener, in Charlotte, N.C., against Tennessee.
But for the last three months, it was already football season for about 30 members of the West Virginia Smash, a semi-pro team based out of Morgantown. Since May, the Smash have played seven games in their inaugural season with the finale July 7, in Cleveland.
While it’s a work in progress according to part-owner and coach Chris Simpson — the team has a 2-5 mark — he hopes semi-pro football can catch on in Morgantown.
“We tried to stay under the radar at first since this is our first season, but the longer we can keep this going, the more resources we can get and the more established we can become,” Simpson said.
The Smash feature players from all over the East Coast, including New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland and West Virginia, who transplanted to Morgantown for either school or a career.
The team is entirely volunteer-based, from coaches to players. Only the officials are paid, and that money is raised through entry fees. Money is also raised for uniforms and the use of facilities — practices are held at the WVU medical center field, across the street from Kegler’s on Chestnut Ridge Road, and games are held at Morgantown High’s Pony Lewis Field.
Players are responsible for their own equipment, but Simpson hopes in a few years to take financial burdens off the players.
The Smash are part of the Gridiron Developmental Football League (GDFL), “established to provide the community with high quality sports entertainment and to provide athletes the opportunity to participate in professional sports,” according to the league’s website.
Former Preston quarterback Scott Stone is the starting QB for the Smash; he joined the team midseason. He played for another semi-pro league in Wheeling before coming home to the Smash.
“I love football and wanted to keep playing, and I might as well use the film to see if I can get a little exposure to play for something bigger,” Stone said.
The GDFL can be used as a stepping stone to a higher level, including the NFL. Current wide receiver Nijay Kelly, a former walk-on at WVU from Philadelphia, is attending a tryout with the Oakland Raiders and Houston Texans and will miss today’s finale.
While juggling personal lives with football, keeping a routine can be difficult with practice schedules, especially preseason camp, which begins in March.
“Family and jobs are more important than football, so we understand that, but it can be a juggling act at the semi-pro level,” Simpson said.
Simpson is joined by three other coaches, but hopes to expand his staff next season.
Simpson is also joined by other owners, James Clark and Justin Cotton, who are both linemen on the team.
The Smash run a basic offense and defense. Simpson likes to run about 60 percent of the time, and the defense switches from a 4-3 to a 3-4, depending on the situation.
While the program is in its infancy, Simpson is hopeful it can latch on in the Morgantown community and add another dimension to a football-crazed town.
“We’re hopefully just getting started here,” he said, “so we can continue to get better and get this thing rolling.”