Who says Eastwood and Genoa football players can’t get along?
They do when given the chance — and former Eagles and Comets are doing just that when playing for the semipro Northwest Ohio Raiders.
The Raiders, owned by husband and wife Tom and Tiffany Turner of Genoa, play their home games at Clyde High School's Bob Bishop Stadium.
Courtney Downard, a 5-11, 195-pound receiver/defensive back for the Raiders, played wideout at Eastwood before graduating in 2001. The 25-year-old has six catches for the Raiders and is in his second season with the team.
"I can't give up football. I just can't do it," Downard said. "I still feel I'm in good enough shape that I'm going to try out for the Toledo Bullfrogs, the Arena League team. I'm not concerned about injuries. I go to the gym and work out and do some running. If you're thinking you're going to get hurt, the more likely you're going to get hurt."
Downard works as an assembler at Rieter Automotive in Oregon. He said the reason he plays semi-pro football is because he still loves the game.
"My No. 1 dream was to be out there playing football as long as I could," Downard said. "I knew people who had played semi-pro ball when I was younger. You make friends and hang out and play football for the love of the game."
Mike Hatas, a 2002 Eastwood graduate, was a defensive end for the Eagles and now plays end, linebacker and defensive back for the Raiders. Hatas (6-0, 175), has worked for Carter Lumber for seven years.
Now 25, Hatas played eight-on-eight flag football in Toledo after high school,
but he wanted to get back into full-contact football.
"I love the sport," he said. "I have nothing but heart for the game. Courtney Downard called me and we went out and we watched a (Raiders) scrimmage and I liked what I saw. From there, I joined the team."
The scrimmage Hatas watched was on May 23. The Raiders had a game the following week, on May 30.
"I wanted to watch a preseason game first, to see how the team worked as a team, before I made a commitment," Hatas said. "Every guy on this team is great. They've got tons of heart. In football, that means a lot. It doesn't matter if you win or lose every game, as long as you've got heart for it, that's football."
Hatas said semi-pro ball is much more intense than what he remembers from high school.
"The speed's different and the guys are bigger, obviously," he said. "If you don't know what you're getting into, it's going to be a shock playing semi-pro football. These teams we play against, they have the same thing everybody else has. They have heart and they want to play. They go out on that field, they want to hit. We just love playing the game.
"Anybody who wants to play, I would tell them to play. I'm having a blast. This gave me a second opportunity to get the pads back on and do what anybody else would love to do who played football."
Raiders defensive tackle Mark Szymczak, a 2000 Genoa graduate, was the SLL Defensive Player of the Year and a second-team All-Ohio selection in 1999 as a nose guard. He was also a state placer in wrestling at 215 pounds in 2000.
The 5-10, 265-pound Szymczak, in his first season with the Raiders, works construction at Hall Industrial.
"A lot of guys hunt and fish," Szymczak said. "We get together and play football. That's our hobby - get out there and bang some heads."
Szymczak has played some offensive line for the Raiders and he has lined up as a fullback on fourth-down situations, but he has yet to score a touchdown.
"I dream about it," Szymczak said. "In high school I played fullback and I scored a few touchdowns."
What are his reasons for playing semi-pro ball?
"I'm only 27 years old," he said. "I'm still young and I love contact sports. It's a good, legal way to get your aggression out. We have a good time out there. I always thought in semi-pro football, there weren't a lot of big guys. These guys are fast and strong. Just because you're older doesn't mean you've lost it. I'm still young and I've still got it.
"It's good to be a part of something, to have a hobby and be a part of a team. It keeps you busy and keeps your mind focused. You feel you are a part of something and it is a good time."
For more information on the Raiders, visit www.northwestohioraiders.com. Admission to Raiders games is $6, and children age 12 and under are free.