Don Currie Jr. remains optimistic.
Even though his Lawrence County Mustangs saw their season end prematurely after two games, the owner and head coach of the local semi-pro team is focusing his efforts toward rebuilding for next year.
“Injuries really hurt us,” Currie explained. “We had some problems and we got down to 13 players and couldn’t compete.”
Currie, 49, is a 1976 graduate of New Castle High and gathered 27 players from the area, as well as surrounding counties in Beaver and Butler to participate in the Eastern Football Conference of the United States Football Alliance, a semi-pro football league established in Sharon in 2005.
The Mustangs competed in a scrimmage against the Western Pa. Warhawks of Harmony before dropping a 45-6 contest to the Penn Ohio Raiders of Sharon in the first week of regular season play. Lawrence County lost its second and final game 34-0 to the Tri-State Spartans of Steubenville, Ohio.
“We represented quite well,” said Currie, who played for the Red Hurricane in high school and went on to play one collegiate season at Slippery Rock. “They gave 150 percent, but when numbers are against you and you’re playing ironman football, you get worn down. We need to get more players and more stable. We would like to get around 45 players before next season.”
Ellwood City Lincoln High graduate Brian Mann played quarterback, while New Castle graduate Marcus Cook, who is the coach’s nephew, played running back and outside linebacker. Mohawk’s Josh Lutz (middle linebacker) and Wilmington’s Todd Porterfield (free safety) were also among a few who played for the Mustangs.
“Events happened that no one had control over,” Currie said. “This year was a learning experience for us. I feel that next year we’ll be a lot stronger and capable of fulfilling the needs of the organization.”
With the assistance of his brother, Chuck Currie, and cousin, Vonnie Harris, Currie’s main concern for the organization is gathering enough players for 2008. But the New Castle Thunder, another local semi-pro team in its second year of existence, also stands as an obstacle.
“The Thunder is a fantastic organization,” Currie said. “They have about 70 players. We have to go to the outlying areas because of the Thunder.
“But the whole area has a lot of tremendous athletes and pushed out tons and tons of athletes. I believe there is enough room for two teams, and we want to give an opportunity to those who want to play and who are not getting that opportunity.”
Besides the Thunder, the Mustangs compete for players with the other numerous semi-pro teams throughout western Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia.
“The three major leagues NAFL (North American Football League), USFA and Ohio Valley League are constantly recruiting from each other. These areas are saturated with talented players.”
Anthony Razzano, the owner and general manager of the Thunder, can identify with the challenges of getting such an organization off the ground.
“People underestimate what it takes to start and run an organization,” he said. “It takes thousands of dollars and a lot of support from the players and community. A lot of things have to go right for it to work.”
Currie, who works security at the Youth Development Center, said finances were not an issue. According to Currie, equipment was purchased out of his own pocket, with help from sponsorships from local and Ohio businesses.
As for facilities, the team plans to continue to practice at Lee Avenue Field, which is located on the west side of town. The Mustangs also anticipate making their own renovations in order to play home games there.
“All teams like this depend on the community,” Currie said. “We feel quite confident and truly are looking forward to next season.”
Don Currie Jr. remains optimistic.
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