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Semipro football team begins inaugural campaign in Greensburg

| Friday, June 22, 2012, 1:24 p.m.
Greensburg Panther Cody Wilson (yellow) is brought down by Western PA Wildcatz Trevis Owens, left, and Josh Stegena during a game at Ambridge High School's Rubenstein Stadium Saturday, June 16, 2012. Heidi Murrin PIttsburgh Tribune-Review
Greensburg Panther Craig Gordon (#1) is pursued by the Western PA Wildcatz during a game Saturday, June 16, 2012 at Ambridge High School's Rubenstein Stadium. Heidi Murrin Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Greensburg Panther Isaiah Dawson (#10) cannot hold onto the pass while being covered by Western PA Wildcatz Jamar Law during a game Saturday, June 16, 2012 at Ambridge High School's Rubenstein Stadium. Heidi Murrin Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Greensburg Panther A.J. Graves (#7) rushes against the Western PA Wildcatz in a game at Ambridge High School's Rubenstein Stadium Saturday, June 16, 2012. Heidi Murrin Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Charles Dawson spent two years with the Pittsburgh Pride minor league football team, but eventually the long trips for practices and longer trips for games took a toll.

That's when he decided to bring the sport closer to home.

Dawson's creation, the Greensburg Panthers, kicked off their inaugural season in June and stand at 2-1 after three games in the Gridiron Developmental Football League.

“In semipro, a first-year team really gets no respect by anybody,” said Dawson, 28, of Greensburg, the team's president and head coach. “But our team has actually exceeded our coaches' expectations already. We lost a tough game (to Western PA Wildcatz on Saturday), but they're the best team in the league and we had them on the ropes.”

In semipro football, players pay a fee to play and receive no compensation. Teams have to seek out sponsors and hold fundraisers in order to bring in enough money to host games, which cost $800 apiece. Dawson said he often has to pay out of pocket to cover the balance of that cost.

While it seems to offer little glory, Dawson had no trouble recruiting players — most of whom have college or semipro experience. Many of the players have aspirations of moving up the ranks, Dawson said, while the rest play for the love of the game.

“We probably have only three or four guys who could possibly play at the next level,” Dawson said. “The other 26 guys, they basically play just for the love of the game. I've got a 50-year-old playing, so that's pretty much love of the game.”

Quarterback Mike Sedunov starred at Yough High School and went on to play at Washington & Jefferson, but the 25-year-old's biggest football experience since college came in a high school alumni game.

When a few people told him about the new team, he jumped at the chance to play again.

“I've had a lot of fun getting to play again,” Sedunov said. “We had a lot of athletes from the area, and it seems like everything really came together in the first two games. We played really well.”

The team, which plays its home games at Bruno Memorial Field in Herminie, consists mainly of alumni from Jeannette, Greensburg Salem, Hempfield, Yough and other Westmoreland County high schools.

Sedunov said the players are familiar with each other's exploits from high school, which in turn helps the team.

“You just have a lot of trust in players you know,” he said. “You know they can play, know a little bit about their past and know they feel the same way about football as I do and are passionate about it.”

Dawson says the team's greatest strength is its quarterback and receivers, as Sedunov threw for five touchdowns and ran for two more in the Panthers' second game of the season, a 52-8 win over the Mon Valley Mayhem.

The team will play the Pittsburgh Stealth at 3 p.m. Saturday at Bruno Field.

While Dawson says the team has an expectation to win every game, for now he has a bigger goal for next season. He said the GDFL commissioner plans to start a pro division for more advanced teams, and Dawson wants the Panthers in it.

“You're going to have to show you have stable finances, (and) you're going to have to show you can provide,” he said. “A lot of games, we might go to a field that's in the middle of a park, and they just rolled the lines on this morning. That's what he's trying to avoid, things like that — the forfeits. He wants it to be run like a pro league, so that's what we're going to try to shoot for.”

Doug Gulasy is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at dgulasy@tribweb.com.

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