The city of Ocoee is now home to a new local semi-pro football team: the Central Florida Blue Devils.
“Our mission is to get these players to where they want to be, whether that is to become a coach, play college ball or get to the pros,” founder and co-owner Shawn Simmons said. “That’s my ultimate goal — to get them to move up. If I have a player and he only plays (with us) for half a season, and he gets assigned to a pro team, I did my job. I (wouldn’t) be sad I’d be losing him.”
The Simmonses — Shawn and Decota — had been talking about the possibility of starting their own semi-pro team for about 18 months. Thanks to Shawn Simmons’ background as a player through his high-school years, a couple of years in college and a year at the semi-pro level, the couple learned the things they would do differently if they ever owned their own team.
“It finally got to the point where we were like, ‘Let’s dive in and get it done; let’s create a safe and reliable place for these players,” Decota Simmons said.
CHOOSING THE NAME
Shawn Simmons grew up in Lakeland but attended high school in Pulaski, Tennessee, where he played football for Giles County High School. He furthered his academic and football careers at Independence Community College in Kansas, where he played for a year before returning to Lakeland.
“I went there for two semesters and decided to come home,” Shawn Simmons said. “It wasn’t for me.”
While looking for a name for his dream team, Shawn Simmons realized the mascot ‘Devils’ had to be a part of the name.
“Kathleen (High School) was the Red Devils,” he said. “When I came up with the team’s name, the Devils were already there. Then, I started looking at colors and logos and realized nobody wears blue and gray … and those colors look nice. So, I went with that.”
Decota Simmons believes her husband chose the colors because he is a Dallas Cowboys fan.
Her husband disagrees.
“That’s not it,” Shawn Simmons said. “We found the logo, and it already had blue and gray together, so I went with it, and it actually turned out really (well).”
LANDING IN OCOEE
Originally from Lakeland, the Simmonses had been looking for a place to serve as the Central Florida Blue Devils’ home field for practice hours and home games all through the season.
“We were looking for a home field around this area, because a lot of our players are from the Orlando and Kissimmee areas,” Decota Simmons said. “So, it’s funny. We were at a practice field in Orlando, and we were leaving to head home. I was on Google, of all places, and I happened to stumble upon this, and we came and took a look at it. … I had never heard of Ocoee until we happened to find this, and it has turned out to be one of the best places I think I’ve ever seen.”
The team rents the Ocoee Bulldog Field on a weekly basis for a fair price — $53 for two hours a week. However, the Florida Blue Devils rent the field for home games at a $400 rate; referees cost $500 per game.
“I told my wife, ‘Listen, it’s going to take a lot, and a lot of our money, to start before money starts coming in,” Shawn Simmons said. “I know eventually it will get to where we’ll have people — their fans — come to games and support with the concession (stand) and donate to the cause. … We are hoping that a lot of the sponsors get on board not necessarily to donate, but to help us fund the team.”
JOINING THE TEAM
The roster consists of 36 players, and the average age of the team is 24 years old. Every player, before being accepted into the team, had to send his football film and talk to the head coach — Shawn Simmons.
“A lot of these players have come from other teams, and some are from out of state,” Decota Simmons said. “They messaged us and talked to Coach, and he liked what he heard.”
The team provides its players the opportunity to play for a player’s fee of $200, which includes two sets of uniforms — a home and an away jersey and pants. Each player provides his own equipment.
Players are encouraged to be 18 or older, but the team allows 17-year-olds to play — as long as they have their parents’ consent.
THE ONE AND ONLY DEVILS
One thing to know about the Florida Blue Devils? The team is different.
“Our team is different,” Shawn Simmons said. “We are building a culture around our team to get our players to the next level. We don’t tolerate nonsense. We don’t tolerate our players getting in trouble outside of the team.”
There is one team the Devils are looking forward to the most come Feb. 4. The team will face the Florida Champion Football League defending champs in their opening game: the Daytona Beach Broncos.
Besides bringing semi-pro football to the Ocoee community, the Central Florida Blue Devils are looking forward to offering summer camps and serve the people in the city in myriad ways.
“That’s the ultimate goal also,” Shawn Simmons said. “Not only to help the players but also the community.”