River City Bucs

River City Buccaneers running back Luke Brown works to get across the goal line during the Bucs’ 19-14 win over the Portsmouth Stealth last Saturday. The Bucs enter tonight’s game with a record of 2-1.

In his third season as owner of the River City Buccaneers, Michael Payne points to a Year 1 success story as one of the many reasons he remains deeply invested.

Former Buc Carlos Canty, originally from Detroit, had lost one of his parents and didn’t have a home. Canty had never played football, but he is “extremely fast,” Payne said. Bucs coach Daniel Murphy challenged Canty to study several hours of film to assess his interest.

“When he was done watching, he could probably tell you word for word that entire video,” Payne said.

With the help of former Kentucky Christian coach Mike Furrey, Canty’s “Big Brother” who played in the NFL and has coached at various spots, Payne, Murphy and company refreshed Canty’s outlook on life. By the sixth week of the Bucs’ first season, Canty had earned his GED and enrolled in Limestone College (Gaffney, South Carolina) — Furrey was Limestone’s head coach from 2016-18. Later in the fall, Canty was elected president of the freshman class.

“That makes all of it worth it,” Payne said.

The Buccaneers are 2-1 heading into their fourth game of Season 3. They will host the West Virginia Storm today at 7 p.m. at Tanks Memorial Stadium in Ironton. The Premier Amateur Football League members will have eight regular season contests before a tournament in August.

The Bucs’ roster features an age range of 18-45. Some are vying for collegiate chances or a shot at overseas football. Others are still in the fray because of pure passion. Steven Gordon, a 6-foot-3, 280-pound lineman from Lucasville, Ohio, fits the second category. He’s 45.

“There’s nothing like having those players who just love the game,” said Murphy, the Bucs’ first-year head coach after serving two years as the defensive coordinator. “It motivates you to show up every day. Gordo’s a guy who brings extra gear, helps teammates. He’s like, I don’t care if I play or not, as long as I can help the team.”

Players are not paid.

Of 62 players on the roster, four call Ashland their hometown — Austin Young, Zac Christensen, Juan Wilkerson and Andrew Nelson. Five hail from Ironton. While there are plenty more from the tri-state area, some rack up the mileage during the summer months. One player travels to and from North Carolina every other week. While in town, he visits family and friends and competes for the Bucs.

David Asiedu (6-4, 315) is an offensive tackle for the Bucs and an Ashland Tomcats assistant coach.

“People come and want to be part of the organization,” Murphy said. “From the ownership to the coaches to the players, it’s a different culture here. They all have to cultivate that, and they’ve done a great job.”

Before hopping on board with the Bucs, Murphy wanted to be sure it was “different.”

“We do community outreach and a lot of charity work,” said Murphy, an Ironton teacher and Fighting Tigers assistant. “They promised it would be different than most semi-pro teams, and it has been. It’s been a match made in heaven.”

Payne is a former Portsmouth Warriors player. The Warriors won the National Football Events AA Championship in Florida in 2016 before ceasing to exist.

Payne initially owned and played for the Bucs simultaneously. Now, he enjoys taking the games in as the team’s owner.

“If we get this offense going, we’re going to be real fun to watch,” said the former Ironton kicker and tailback. He played in the mid-2000s.

The Bucs lost their first matchup with the Storm, 6-2, in the season opener on June 1. They rebounded with wins over the Ohio Crush and Portsmouth Stealth.

Tickets for tonight’s game cost $6 for adults, $4 for students/senior citizens/military and they’re free for kids 5 and under.

“We’re trying to pack the stands,” Payne said. “We’re thankful to Ironton for allowing us to play at Tanks.”

The Bucs’ remaining schedule: at Ohio Crush (June 29); at Portsmouth Stealth (June 13); vs. Ohio Calvary (July 20); and at Columbus War Eagles (July 27).

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asnyder@dailyindependent.com