By Anna-Marie Menhenott
TREASURE COAST -- For most players, when the last football game of the high school season is over, it's time to hang up their cleats.
For some, leaving school to get a job to support a family instead of pursuing the dream of hitting the college football field becomes a harsh reality.
For others, life on the streets takes what was once within grasp and turns it into a faded memory.
However, for nearly 50 local men, the dream of playing football after high school has become a reality.
The Treasure Coast Bengals have given a second, third and sometimes fourth chance to a hard-working group of athletes who sacrifice themselves each week in the hopes of catching the eye of a college scout.
"We've got a great bunch of guys who really work hard," said John Chandler, Bengals head coach. "I've got ex-gang members who normally wouldn't associate with each other playing on the same team. They've got a common goal; to get better. They want to win football games, so they put their personal differences aside when they walk onto the field."
The Bengals are part of the South Florida Football League, and last season finished with an 8-4 record.
Key players to watch out for are Donald Brown, quarterback, who was an outstanding player at Fort Pierce Westwood High School. He brings leadership and tenacity to a loaded offense. Running back Tyrone Smith of Fort Pierce, last year's Elite MVP, brings a forceful running game to the Bengals.
Linebacker Mike White from Vero Beach and safeties Derrick Taylor and Travis Cass from Indian River County anchor a strong defense.
The Bengals don't turn anybody away from joining the team.
"It takes dedication and hard work. If they can handle the work, then they can play," Coach Chandler said. "We offer a chance to players that they might not get anywhere else. They are encouraged to finish their diploma, take college entrance exams and give back to the community. We had one player who got a scholarship to play at the University of South Florida. Hard work pays off."
The team also participates in food drives and toy drives for the needy. This month, they will participate in the second annual Diamonds, Inc., "Walk Against Violence" starting at 11 a.m. on March 9 along Avenue D in Fort Pierce.
"Many of these players have made their share of mistakes. This is a chance for them to redeem themselves and make a difference in the community."
The team plays 10 regular season games. There will be an all-star game May 25 and a championship game May 26, both taking place at Lawnwood Stadium in Fort Pierce. All home games take place at Lawnwood Stadium on March 9, 16 and 30 and April 6 and 20. Games start at 7 p.m. and there is a $5 entrance fee.
For more information, visit www.treasurecoastbengals.com.