Semi-pro football team Star City Rebels look to find talent with tryouts

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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ7) You may not have heard of the Star City Rebels just yet. But the semi-pro football team is working towards becoming a household name in the Roanoke area. The squad is coming off of their first season in the Atlantic Football Association, and over the weekend, held tryouts for next year's team.

"Last year, we started the season with about 40 players," said Rebels Head Coach, Danny Burkholder. "This year, we plan on starting it with 60."

Those higher numbers only mean more competition for a limited amount of spots on the team.

But that doesn't worry wide receiver, Devonte Martin, who was a member of the team in 2015.

"Everybody out here, they're showing that they have talent, and they're coming to prove something this year," said Martin.

Safety, Austin Beeker, says he saw some former foes at the tryout.

"Being from Cave Spring, I'm playing with Salem guys, PH guys, William Fleming guys," said Beeker. "We used to hate each other. Now, we actually have to like each other to be on the same team."

"A lot of our guys have played at high school, they're coming from colleges," said Quarterback, Anthony Merritt. "They're doing what I'm doing, they're just in between right now. They don't want to stay off the field."

Many players trying out have taken different paths in their football careers, like wide receiver, Aaron Johnson, Jr.

"I graduated from William Fleming, class of '09," said Johnson. "I went to college, went to the Virginia University of Lynchburg, left there in '14. Then I went into the NFL, with the Washington Redskins. I got cut there, and now I'm out here."

No matter the players previous backgrounds, earning a roster spot means paying for your own uniform and gear, with no guaranteed playing time and no paycheck. But there are still many benefits to making the cut.

"I'm taking classes at Virginia Western, and I'm planning to walk-on," said wide receiver, Emmanuel Poulard. That's why I use this as an opportunity to keep my skills in tact. You can go to the gym, and play pick-up basketball, but you can't really play pick-up football in full pads."

"You can get film with it, and use it to get back into the league, or get to the CFL, overseas, or Arena," said Johnson.

Beeker said, "I'm using this as a stepping stone to play at UAB, since they actually just got their football program back. So, it's a dream."

It's simply that dream of just playing the game that motivates the Star City Rebels.

Brandon Chinnery, Rebels Co-Owner and Lineman Coach said, "I don't think it's tough to be dedicated to something if you love it, if you have a passion for it."

"Talent is important, but when you're building a team, it's really more about a combination of different people coming together with a common goal," said Burkholder. "No matter where you came from, what team you played for before, now they're trying to be Rebels."