A pair of former Holland College Hurricanes play their first semipro football game today in Ontario.
Centre Ryan Payne and linebacker Richard Lush are captains with the Steel City Patriots, of the Northern Football Conference. The Patriots host the Sault Ste. Marie Steelers today at 3 p.m. ADT.
“I’ve been here for two months now waiting for this day to happen,” Lush said Friday. “I’m trying not to get too hyped up or I won’t be sleeping tonight.”
The six-foot, 228-pound Charlottetown native will also see time as a long snapper, a full back and on special teams. The 25-year-old said he is hoping to become a professional.
“We haven’t sent an athlete from P.E.I. to the pro level. That’s where our dreams are,” Lush said. “I’m playing semipro right now reaching for the stars.”
Payne, a 25-year-old from Warren Grove, started playing in Bedford, N.S., and played for a couple of teams before his family moved to Prince Edward Island in 2006. He joined the Cornwall Thunders when he was in Grade 11 at Bluefield High School and later played with four years with the Hurricanes.
“For both of us, the big dream is pro,” Payne said. “We worked pretty hard to get to where we are.”
Patriots head coach Phil Costantini and scout Sam MacBeath discovered Payne and Lush while coaching at a combine earlier this year in Mississauga, Ont., for an indoor football league looking to start next year.
“They’re both very hard workers. We’re very pleased to have them on the team,” said MacBeath.
He said the coaching they received in P.E.I. shows when they are on the field. MacBeath added the two are like “sponges” in absorbing what the staff asks them to do and have quickly become part of the community by helping to coach a junior varsity football team.
The Patriots play an eight-game regular season in a 12-team circuit. It uses Canadian rules except it plays four downs and players line up on the line of scrimmage. The players don’t get paid, as the team is a non-profit organization. The team does help cover some of its expenses.