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Semi-professional team prepares for season opener

What looked to be a pipedream, according to Andy Slagle, has turned into fruition for the Erwin Knights.
The Knights, a semi-professional football team based in Unicoi County, held practice on Saturday, March 7, to prepare for their season opener set for March 28 at Gentry Stadium against the Southwest Legends.
“We’ve been working at this since September,” said Slagle, head coach of the Knights. “It has been one of the hardest things I’ve had to do. With getting everybody together, the equipment, raising some money … it is exciting. I love giving these guys a chance to come out and represent the community in a positive way.
“It is something good for the community and we’d love the support. We’re out here practicing, rain or cold, we’re out working to be the best we can to be successful and bring a fun, new tradition to the community.”
A handful of former Blue Devils make up the team including Don (D.W.) Whitson Jr., Cameron Miller, Zack Beard, Jonathan Davis, Anthony Harris, Trevor Berry and recent Unicoi County High School graduate Erik Arnett.
“We started out basically just coming out with seven-on-sevens and just throwing it around,” Whitson said. “With not knowing if any possibilities of getting pads, but our coaches did their fundraisers, got everything together and now we’ve got a team. We have pads, an offensive coordinator, defensive coordinator, a head coach … everything is in place for us to be successful and have a good first year.”
Whitson serves a captain on the team and the starting quarterback, a familiar role during his time at UCHS.
“It feels great,” he said. “It’s been about five or six years. I put my pads on for the first time the other day and it took me back. You definitely reminisce on things and it’s a luxury to come out here and do it again.
“We have a lot of talent on the offensive end. I can’t speak much for the defensive side, but I know they’ll have something together. We’re all just ready for March 28; that’s all we are looking forward to right now.”
Beard is also back on the gridiron in Unicoi County after a standout career that sent him to Tusculum to continue playing football.
Back in the area, Beard looks to curb his football career from a tight end to serving as the Knights running back.
“It is nice to hit someone again,” Beard said with a grin. “That’s my favorite part. I got my 40-time down to a 4.6. I love being a running back. From the start when there were eight of us, to now, it’s awesome to see things come together. We’re going to come out and play smashmouth football each game.”
It has been a learning experience since the beginning of the Knights, according to Austin Crum. Crum was previously a player on the team and has transitioned to a defensive coach.
“At first, it was kind of iffy,” he said. “For a first-year team, it is hard to get the sponsors and money together, but its coming along smoothly. We got about 35-40 people on the roster. We’re all kind of wondering what to expect as of right now, but we expect the competition to be good and we’re doing our best as coaches to prepare the players.”
The Knights are part of the the World Class Football League. They are part of a division that features the Legends, Morganton Bobcats, East Tennessee Pirates and the West Carolina Knights.
“This area loves football,” Slagle said. “For something like this, something new, it’s going to be awesome, but we’re going to be involved in Unicoi County. We’re going to be in the Relay For Life, we want to host kids camps, we’re even looking to sponsor one of the junior league teams.
“We don’t want to be a team that just plays six games at home, we want to be a benefit for the community and help anywhere we can.”