Deon Staunton’s drive to bring semi-professional football to the area is strong, and it is real.
At 23, Staunton maintains lots of ambition, and when listening to him speak, it’s evident he’s confident in his product — the Southern State Bruins, who will make their home at Mount Hope High School this summer.
“From day one, I’ve been working nonstop with this team, from getting sponsorships to trying to find new ways to market us, to recruiting, to making sure we have a place to play at,” he said.
Staunton, a 2006 Woodrow Wilson graduate, assumed ownership of the team in September and in doing so moved its home site from Summersville and changed the club’s name from Mountain State to Southern State.
Staunton’s ambition extends beyond his goal of fielding a successful football team. Staunton wants to make a positive impact in the community.
The Bruins are the lone team in the Elite Mid-Conference Football League to self-impose a mandatory 15 hours of community service for each member of its squad.
“This is by the team, and the league has no idea about it,” Staunton said. “No one else is doing this. This is our personal goal because we take this seriously in our town. We love our town. Mount Hope welcomed us with open hands, so therefore, we have to give back.”
For a first-time sports franchise owner — though on the smaller scale of franchise levels — Staunton has lofty expectations.
“I want this to be something that can not only improve the community but also bring in revenue for our city and for our players,” he said. “I want to eventually get our players paid to play.
“My business goal is to be here and to help improve our community, give people that second chance and to get our players paid to play minor league football, so they can make it to the next level.”
Southern State will play in the league’s Eastern Conference. The Bruins will compete in the Southeast Division with the West Virginia Lightning, based in Charleston, Pittsburgh Stealth and Pittsburgh Colts.
The team will play 10 regular season games beginning June 18 through the end of August, with the top two teams from each division advancing to the playoffs. There are also plans to play an out-of-conference preseason game with a Ripley-based squad, Staunton said.
Currently, Staunton said the Bruins boast 25-30 players, including himself. Staunton played running back and defensive back with Woodrow Wilson but did not play in college. He began playing with the Bruins in 2008 as wide receiver and kick returner, ultimately becoming a league all-star at kick returner in his rookie season.
This season, Staunton said he will try his hand at quarterback and has trained at the position for 10 months.
The team is currently recruiting more players, and Staunton said he would be comfortable with 45 players but said he hopes for more.
Staunton said he would like to see players get as much from the experience as he has.
“There’s a lot of people who need second chances, and this is what the team has done for me, and this is what this team is going to do for others and has done for others,” he said.
It’s unclear how successful the Bruins will be on the field with the season still several months away. There’s more certainty Staunton’s desire to succeed will drive Southern State.
“It means something to me because it’s something we need here in southern West Virginia,” he said.