With tryouts and sign-ups now behind them, the West Virginia Black Knights developmental football team in Dunbar, W.V., is getting geared up for their first ever season which kicks off March 11 against the Virginia Lions.
“To complete the first year is our goal,” Black Knights owner Walter Seals told Developmental Football USA. “We want to go step by step. We want to go game by game, no matter what the record is. We could be 5-5, 6-4, 8-2, 9-1, or whatever. We feel we have a good chance to surprise some people, but we definitely want to finish the season. We want to make the playoffs, which would be great as a first-year team. If we do that, then we’re looking on towards a conference championship.”
Every football team wants to win, but the Black Knights want to do more than just win. Seals heavily emphasizes character within his organization and wants to become an example at this level of football for others to appreciate, and hopefully follow.
“We do more than football,” Seals said. “We want to try a whole different approach to semipro and an organization in semipro. We want to set a standard, a new level of discipline and respect, to our fans, to the youth teams. We want to stand out to where people say, “Why can’t you have a game like these guys and not cuss and fuss?” We want to set an example.
“I don’t cuss at my players, players don’t cuss at players. Players don’t stab each other in the back on my team. They don’t get on social media and run their mouths.”
Seals was previously the general manager and running backs coach for the West Virginia Lightning, but decided to venture down his own road, in hopes of raising the bar and setting a higher standard than what he had seen in the past.
“I wanted to put semipro on another level,” Seals said. “I wanted to step the game up in sportsmanship, to the fans, to your town, try to get the owners to run it as a business and not let the players run the team. You have to run it as a business to make it successful.
“We want to be role models to these kids, teach them that there’s more than just football, be big brothers to these kids. We’re going to run this business all year. It’s not going to start in January and end in June. It’s going to run all year, not just for the organization, but for the community. There’s a whole lot that we stand for, that we do, that we’re trying to show, to make these other teams step up and be more professional.”
The Black Knights call Laidly Field their home field, but in this first season, they plan to host games at multiple venues in the area as a sort of welcoming tour, Seals said.
More than 70 players have registered to be part of the team of varying levels of previous experience. Regardless of prior experience, Seals said nothing will be handed to anyone.
“Just because you were a captain on another team or a starter, it doesn’t transfer over,” Seals said. “We started on a straight line, everybody starts even.”
So far in practices, a few players have gotten the attention of the coaching staff. One in particular is Caleb Holstein, who plays both tight end and linebacker.
“From the get-go, he stood out because he has some of the most experience on the team,” Seals said. “He’s played with the Lightning, he’s played with a couple of other teams here locally. He’s experienced. He’s a nice sized kid and he wants to be a leader. He stepped up, he knew I needed the help. We started a new team and the way I did the team, everybody started on a straight line.”
Craig Moore, an offensive and defensive lineman with prior college football and developmental football experience is another veteran expected to do big things for the Black Knights in their first season.
“Those are two of the most experienced that we have,” Seals said. “We have another gentleman, Robert Sneed. He’s a linebacker that played semipro in Texas. He’s go-getter and he’s a very hard worker.”
Braxton Wright, whose father Adrian Wright played for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, is also part of the team and could make some noise on the field in 2017.
With many in the developmental football community watching, early success for the Black Knights in the East Coast Football Association could bring in a whole new influx of interest from other veteran players in the region.
“Us being the new team, everybody was sitting on the fence to see what we were going to do, if we were going to last,” Seals said. “A lot of the guys are sitting on the fence.”
Check out the Black Knights next month and look for more news at DFUSA.