BROOKSVILLE- It’s been quite a while since an adult amateur football game has been played in Hernando County.
On Saturday afternoon, Jan. 21, it returns to the county in full force. The Hernando County Hawks semi-pro football team takes on the Tarpon Springs Pirates in preseason action, marking the first time ever the program plays a game. Kick-off is at 1 pm.
“Honestly, I couldn’t have asked for a better group of people around to help get this off the ground, all of our partners for the season, Coach Eric Riggins Sr., Coach Riggins Jr., Coach Jason Owens, Coach Taz Rush, Coach Blake, Coach Fabian Burnett, and of course General Manager Paul Vermuelen,” Hernando County Hawks team owner Austin Webster said. “I feel as if we are miles ahead of where we were expected to be as a semi-pro organization because of those guys right there.”
Webster is no stranger when it comes to the adult amateur level of football, as he played for the SouthSide Saints of the Elite American Football League (EAFL) last year. Playing quarterback and other positions for the Saints, in the off-season, Webster set forth to start his own venture in Hernando County. Now they’ll face a Pirates team that’s coming off a playoff season and giving the Hawks a good test just a month before the EAFL season begins.
“To kick off our 2023 season with a preseason game versus the Tarpon Springs Pirates just made sense,” Webster said. “We wanted to keep the game challenging but at the same time very organized and clean. We can’t wait to test our guys and see how they respond against a different opponent in this game.”
The support for semi-pro football to return to Hernando County was always there, as the area used to be home to the Brooksville Ballers, who were winners of the 2013 United Football Federation of America championship.
The Ballers ended up stopping operations after 2016, leaving Hernando County without a team. Now with the Hawks in town and playing home games at Hernando High School, excitement is all throughout the area in anticipation of football coming back.
“Based off the love and support we have received over the last six months, we can tell Hernando County has been waiting for this,” Webster added. “Nearly ten years since the last semi-pro team was here, and now we get a chance to bring a championship back and put Hernando County Football back on the map. Hernando County has so much talent that goes unrecognized; it’s honestly crazy. Not only… in the semi-pro world but also in the college market for these younger high school players. That’s why we rep Hernando County so proudly. We have built this team not only for the now but for the future.”
A driving force on the front office end of things has been general manager Paul Vermuelen, who has spent countless hours pushing the team via social media and notching new partners with the program weekly. The Hawks have several partners from all over Hernando County, and Vermuelen has certainly made it known it’s been a challenging time in building from scratch. Now, after all the hard work and time spent in shaping up the Hawks, a new team will be born come Saturday afternoon at Tom Fisher Stadium in downtown Brooksville.
“Needless to say, it’s been a challenge to build a sports organization from the ground up,” Vermuelen said. “I’ve always expressed to Austin, Coach (Riggins), and the players we aren’t the Bucs, the Lightning, the Rays, who have deep pockets financially, but we are, in fact, a true ‘Sports Team a Sports Franchise,’ just like they are. And whether they believed that at the start, I think now they’ve finally figured that out. Especially as we get closer to our preseason game, and they see everything we’ve been able to pull off since we announced the team was playing here in Hernando County.”