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For the Love of the Game | By Nathan Walls

One’s a car salesman. Another owns a day care. They are teachers and counselors, dads with day jobs and families.

But at night, they play football.

And not just any kind of football, indoor football where games take place on a 50-yard field, and fans get a close look at the action. Fayetteville is home to the Guard, winners of the 2007 Professional Indoor Football Championship.

The team got off to a rocky start in 2008. But team owner Richard King brought back star player Wilmont Perry and winning coach Charles Gunnings. They took a re-energized team into May and will end the season with home games every Saturday night in June.

It caps a busy six months of practices, workouts and games for these “civilian” athletes. And an understanding coach. Gunnings – nicknamed Guns for his cannon-like arms – tries to be considerate of his players’ obligations.

“It is a big sacrifice,” he said. “This is not like the NFL, where (players) get a million-dollar contract. They get a small contract. Most of them are doing it for the love of the game.”

Players like Charles Roberts who sometimes brings the children he counsels during the day to team practices at night. Roberts helps developmentally and emotionally-disabled children. After work, he hits the field as a linebacker and defensive end.

“It is tough because basically I work from the morning until evening,” said Roberts, who once played at Fayetteville State University and Seventy-First High School. “What is good though is I can bring children out to the practices and interact with them before and after. This is a really family-oriented environment.”

Robert Duncan, a center and fullback for the Guard, is a teacher in Durham, where he’s a coach, too. He is the head football coach for his school’s junior varsity team, offensive line coach for the varsity team and field coach for track in shot put, long jump, discus, high jump and triple jump.

“I pack my bags on Tuesday with four to five days worth of clothes,” Duncan said. “Typically, I wake up every morning at five and have to be at work by seven. I teach a full schedule, and then when we get done with that I usually have football or track practice. After practice, I jump in my car and drive an hour and 35 minutes and come to practice in Fayetteville. Then, I get back in my car and go back home.”

Duncan played at North Carolina Central University.

“Football has never been work to me,” he said. “The day I feel like it is work is the day I will retire from it. That is plain and simple. It is good to get out and have fun with the guys. You cannot duplicate this in anything you do in life. Coming together as a group of guys, working towards one goal, there is nothing like it.”

Even the coach has a full-time job. Gunnings played at Scotland High School, Elizabeth City State University and for a NFL practice squad and in the arena leagues. Now, he owns Noah’s Ark Learning Childcare in Maxton and Laurinburg.

Defensive coordinator Robbie Davis is a car salesman in Sanford. “If you work hard for the players, they will work hard for you,” he said.

And there’s no doubt the players work – day and night.

“Your body goes through a lot during the season,” player Ken Brown said. “You put your body on the line just to win a football game, and you know you’re not going to get paid millions of dollars. There has got to be something inside of you to do that.”