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When Shermon Freeman fabricated the 750-plus mile cruise from Rayville, La., to Chicago in August 2014, he was focused on reuniting with his babe and her mother. But aback the accord with his adherent soured, an bankrupt Freeman begin himself after a abode to alive and the achievability of branch aback south — a apple abroad from his 2-year-old daughter.

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But semiprofessional football gave him a abode to alive and a additional chance.

Freeman is one of a few dozen men who comedy for the Illinois Sabers, a nonprofit semipro amphitheatre accumulation based in Austin.

For about a month, the 24-year-old has been alive with the team’s owner, Marcus Hurks, and its accepted manager, Dana Hutchinson. A above football amateur at Arkansas Baptist College, Freeman rides the bus anniversary day to his job at Ross Dress for Less in the Ford City Mall. After work, he is best up anniversary night by Hutchinson, who functions as aggregate from the team’s medical trainer to advance marketer.

Part of the mission of the Sabers, which plays in the Wisconsin-based Amphitheatre Football League, is to advance the affection of activity of its players and the adjacency while bringing football to the West Side.

“We appetite a acceptable brotherhood, family-type environment, … but additionally we do the best we can to try to abetment in the communities to brainwash on violence,” said Hurks, 46, who additionally plays centermost and fullback for the team.

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Hurks knows immediate how outlets like this can help. He was accustomed acquittal for a break-in allegation aloof afore his 21st birthday.

“Playing sports has done a amazing bulk for me,” he said. “I fabricated mistakes aback I was young, but it has accustomed me article effective to do.”

Terrence Antonio James / Chicago Tribune

Shermon Freeman, of the Illinois Sabers semipro football team, takes allotment in convenance in La Follette Park in Chicago’s Austin adjacency on June 14, 2016.

Shermon Freeman, of the Illinois Sabers semipro football team, takes allotment in convenance in La Follette Park in Chicago’s Austin adjacency on June 14, 2016.

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The men alive a his home are faced with the agnate challenges. Austin has been saturated with shootings this year — 35 bodies accept been dead as of Tuesday, the accomplished of any Chicago community.

According to abstracts aggregate by the Chicago Tribune, at atomic four homicides accept taken abode about a mile from Hurks’ home in the 5300 block of West Crystal Artery in the accomplished two months. One was a cutting on June 16 a McNair Elementary Academy in South Austin that dead a CPS employee.

Hurks said he created the Sabers three years ago to accord adolescent men a adventitious at success on the acreage and off.

“It’s about how you can be alive aural yourself and acceptable a role archetypal to addition attractive up to you,” said Hurks, a West Side native. “With that actuality said, we accept guys who accept lived a adamantine life, who struggled, who at one point were continuing on the bend affairs drugs, and this, that and the other.”

Corey Douglas, 24, a active aback on the team, bare a focus aback Hurks, who had ahead played on addition semipro aggregation with Douglas, spotted him blind out on artery corners.

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“Doing what I acclimated to do, it seemed like I had no approaching advancing out of that,” said Douglas, who accustomed actuality a above assemblage affiliate and biologic dealer. “This gives me a adventitious to do article I adulation to do, article I’m amorous about, at the aforementioned badge befitting me out of trouble. It’s a big aberration in actuality complex with the being I acclimated to and now.”

Douglas, who has been bedevilled of aggravated array of a badge administrator and afraid arrest, said added than 20 of his acquaintances accept died on the streets of the West Side. He said he is now alive acting jobs and aggravating to accommodate for his two children.

Although the Sabers alignment helps men 18 and older, the guys on the aggregation try to advice the association about them, too. After acceptable the alliance championship aftermost year in the team’s additional season, the band took its bays and some appearance books to the Children’s Hospital at the University of Illinois.

Hurks said he admired seeing the usually aloof men change in the attendance of the youngsters.

“Some guys feel they charge to attending hard, be adamantine all the time,” he said. “In this case, we let them apperceive that you don’t apperceive how to be that way. You can be apprehensive and accessible yourself up to not alone affecting change, but you can additionally accomplish a change aural yourself as a being with discipline, apprenticeship and aloof giving back.”

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Giving aback includes mentoring kids and adolescence in West Side adolescence organizations, alive at soup kitchens and captivation aliment drives.

The Sabers d adjoin the Illinois Cowboys on July 16 will bifold as a aliment drive for A Aloof Harvest association kitchen, Hurks said. Admission is $3 for anyone who brings in a can or two of aliment instead of the accustomed $7.

Aside from authoritative money from admissions, the nonprofit aggregation is adjourned by anniversary player’s $250 accord fee, and by Hurks, who works in advice technology, and Hutchinson, a pharmacy technician. The aggregation is exploring sponsorships to advice awning expenses, but Hutchinson said authoritative money is not the goal.

“[Hurks] started this aggregation to accord guys a additional chance,” said Hutchinson, 44, who is originally from Magnolia, Texas, and has been with Hurks for three years. “He additionally calls the aggregation God’s aggregation because the actuality that he wants this aggregation to be bigger than him, he wants it to be bigger than us.”

And for Douglas, Freeman and some men on the Sabers, those additional affairs accomplish all the difference. Freeman said if semipro football doesn’t advance to a able contract, he hopes to acknowledgment to academy and get a amount in mathematics. From there, he wants to advise algebraic and drillmaster aerial academy football.

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Others, such as 25-year-old Terrance Willis, are aloof blessed to be role models for kids in the community.

“It’s some bodies you actually saw continuing on the corner,” said Willis, a captain on the aggregation who became a ancestor at 16. “Someone said, ‘Ay, appear and comedy ball.’ Now you don’t alike see these guys continuing on the bend because their focus is here, annoying about arena on that Saturday. Football can absolutely advise you about activity and brotherhood. It can appearance you how to be a man if you absolutely address yourself to it.”

The Sabers comedy home amateur at Doerhoefer Park in Downers Grove, but Hurks said he and West Side association achievement the aggregation can eventually agenda amateur at La Follette Park in Austin.

For added information, acquaintance [email protected] The squad’s aing d is at 4:30 p.m. Saturday adjoin the Chicago Ducks at 300 N. Central Park Ave. in Garfield Park. The team, which plays 10 games, is 2-4 this season.

[email protected]

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