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Pay-to-play football leagues give second chances to service members

Some service members seek brass ring; others just want a chance to get on the field

Northwest Guardian

Published: 03:10PM July 17th, 2014
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Dean Siemon/Northwest Guardian

Jaton Roberts stands in line with the Thurston County Mayhem during the national anthem before a game with the Washington Cavaliers July 12 at Tumwater High School.

Upon high school graduation, only a selected few take their football skills from Friday nights to Saturdays in college stadiums across the country. Even fewer play in the National Football League on Sundays.

Several service members stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord joined the U.S. armed forces directly out of high school with the belief that they had played their last game wearing full pads. But in the Puget Sound region, multiple semi-professional football teams welcome service members to play again.

The Thurston County Mayhem of Lacey visited the Washington Cavaliers at Tumwater High School on July 12 for a regular-season game under the Western Washington Football Alliance. About 20 JBLM service members took the the field between the two teams.

Semi-pro football leagues like WWFA are pay-to-play leagues, but it provides opportunities depending on the goals of each player.

“It’s for guys who have talent coming out of high school, and maybe they didn’t have the grades,” said Mayhem coach James King III. “Then you have guys who played college ball or in the military and they still strive to either go to Canada or the NFL. For the rest of us — it’s the love of the game.”

Many of the JBLM players had a chance to play Division I college football, but went different routes.

When Jaton Roberts had signed his national letter of intent to play at the University of Texas, his mom Patricia Neal became ill back in Chesterfield, Va. Rather than play, he stayed in Virginia to support his family.

He later joined the Army and became an infantryman. Roberts’ mom passed away earlier this year.

He said playing semi-pro for the Thurston County Mayhem this season is what she would have wanted.

“It keeps me out of trouble, and it’s something that’s fun,” Roberts said. “After a stressful job through the week, on Saturday you get to play and have fun.”

Mike Beasley could have played Division 1 football, but turned down a full-ride scholarship at Central Michigan University in Mount Pleasant, Mich., for a guaranteed starting-quarterback position at the much smaller Hope College in Holland, Mich.

After one semester, Beasley couldn’t afford to continue his education and playing career. He joined the Air Force in 2012 and reached McChord Field in May 2013.

Over Christmas last year, Beasley thought about playing football again. After learning about the Washington Football Alliance through an online search, he contacted all 10 coaches via email before eventually joining the defending league champion Cavaliers this season.

“I thought I was going to be done after I left Hope, then I was lucky enough to find this team,” Beasley said. “It’s been wonderful to come out and play the sport I love.”

Players like Beasley and Roberts love any opportunity to advance in a football career, but Ryan Tomsic is at an age where he only has a few years to get the itch out of their system.

Tomsic played football at Rodriguez High School in Fairfield, Calif., until 2005.

Since then, he’s played in the JBLM Intramural Flag Football League and the annual Rivalry Flag Football Game against Naval Base Kitsap.

As a wide receiver for the Cavaliers, he said he sets a good example for his two children, Tyson, 8, and Rylee, 6, who have shown an interest in sports.

“They didn’t get to see me play in high school, so they get to see me play now,” Tomsic said.

As King said, JBLM service members help build camaraderie and provide leadership within their respective clubs. Rather than giving “lip service,” the military player leads by example on the playing field and at practice.

“It’s easier to get guys to follow in your footsteps when they see you doing a quality job,” King said.