The Ohio Raiders are about to begin their inaugural season when Premier Amateur Football League play kicks off on Saturday, but don’t mistake them for your average first-year developmental team.
In fact, the Raiders are coming in with years of developmental football success and a roster that features gobs of talent. Co-owner Jermaine Campbell previously owned the two-time league champion Ohio Golden Knights for six years before he and fellow co-owner James Keck decided to try something new and start the Raiders.
“We both just wanted to come together and we were both tired of doing it by ourselves,” Campbell told Developmental Football USA. “We wanted to come together and work together to build another powerhouse organization.”
The Golden Knights won the Ohio Football League in 2013, lost in the conference finals of the PAFL in 2014, then won the PAFL in 2015. At the height of their success, the Golden Knights strung together 29 consecutive wins.
With the Golden Knights now a thing of the past, Campbell’s focus is now on building up the Raiders and he’s definitely making major progress on that front.
Two players bring former NFL experience to the Raiders in linebacker Markus Steele – who played for USC then the Dallas Cowboys and Denver Broncos – and running back Shawn Bayes who played for Kent State University and the Oakland Raiders.
Several others bring with them former Division I or Arena Football League experience.
Running back Prince-Tyson Gulley played at Syracuse, defensive back John James and wide receiver Casey Gladney played for the University of Cincinnati, defensive tackle Prishod Koonce and offensive lineman Dyonne Dye played for Kent State University, defensive back Nick Jackson played at Akron, and defensive back Marlon Oden played for the Cleveland Gladiators of the AFL.
“We’re excited because most of these guys have played against a high level competition for most of their career, so they’re used to it,” Campbell said. “They’ve played at a high level, just not as one team.”
The list continues with many other players from Division II or Division III colleges that were maybe one inch too short or 10 pounds too light, but will still be a major force to be reckoned with at the developmental level.
“I’ll be bluntly honest, we have enough talent to win the league,” Campbell said. “We have a full 65-man roster full of talent, with mostly college experience. Can we come together and be a family? You have to be a family at this level to win a championship, to face adversity, to win on the road. Will we become a family? Yes. ‘Will we become a family fast enough?’ is the question.”
So far the Raiders split two pre-season games with a 26-16 win over the Ohio Broncos – who look to contend in the OFL – and a 37-26 loss to the Detroit Ravens on the road.
On Saturday, PAFL play kicks off with a road game against the AAA National Champions, the Southern Michigan Timberwolves.
“One of the main things we need to do is not going to Monroe, Michigan – which is where Southern Michigan is – not going there like we went to Detroit,” Campbell said. “We came in late, not having energy, not really ready to play football and we didn’t kick it into gear until the second half. This weekend, once we get up, we need to control the game, if we can get up. We’ve got to play for four quarters, we just saw that in Detroit.”
The Timberwolves will just be one test of many for the Raiders in the deeply talented PAFL.
“Ironically, our entire schedule is either teams that won a championship or played in a championship in the last five years,” Campbell said. “Every game on our schedule is that way.”
Against the Ravens, the Raiders were missing the dynamic duo of running backs in Gulley and Bayes, who could both have monster seasons this year.
“Prince-Tyson Gulley ran for 18 touchdowns at Syracuse University,” Campbell said. “He ran for a touchdown in his first game, He didn’t go to the Ravens. He played against the Broncos and ran for a touchdown. This is his first time playing this level. I expect him to be a good one-two combination with Shawn Bayes. We’ve got to get both of those guys going.”
The running backs are joined in the backfield by former Hiram College quarterback Brandon Hanna.
“He’s a very popular quarterback at this level and he’s going to get it going also, but we’ve got to get those two going on the ground,” Campbell said.
Look for the Raiders to have a swarming defense and look for defensive back Brandon Allison to bring the wood with his physical play.
“He’s been with me with the Golden Knights for a few years,” Campbell said. “He’s a veteran player, he played at Malone University and he has a hit from when we were the Golden Knights that has 13,000 views online. He has to show up big.
“I would have to say defensive end Jason Lee. He played at Walsh University and I need a big game out of him as well.”
The Raiders are off next week and return to Saint Vincent Saint Mary – home of LeBron James – for their PAFL home opener on June 3.
“We have a documentary crew that’s shooting a documentary and entering it into the Indy Film Festival,” Campbell said. “They don’t miss anything, games, practice, jersey handouts, they come to everything. They don’t mess around, they’re trying to put us in a positive light and they do a great job.”