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Roughriders plan to return for ’22 season

T-L Photo/KIM NORTH FORMER BRIDGEPORT product Cole Smelley watches intently as the West Virginia Roughriders’ 2019 AAL Championship Banner is raised to the rafters inside WesBanco Arena in downtown Wheeling On Saturday night. Smelley was a defensive standout on the team that went 13-0. He participated in the Alumni Game following the ceremony.

BWHEELING — Once a Roughrider, always a Roughrider.

That was the theme inside WesBanco Arena Saturday night, and seems to be one that will carry on into next season.

Gregg Fornario, owner of the West Virginia Roughriders, said Saturday night as the franchise raised its 2019 AAL Championship Banner into the rafters inside WesBanco Arena, that he has plans to return to The Friendly City.

“The franchise was for sale,” he explained. “When the pandemic hit in 2020 and all the confusion that was going on, it wasn’t a good time for someone to grab it from me. At this point, we plan on coming back for the 2022 season.”

He said a formal announcement probably won’t come for several months.

“We’ve got some time. I would have to say early-to-mid-December,” he allowed. “We’ll have to let the league know what is going on, so if there are no setbacks due to this COVID, and I don’t think there will be, now will be the time to figure that out.”

The franchise is committed to the NAL for the 2022 season, he said.

When asked about a head coach after Mook Zimmerman resigned following the 2019 season, Fornario pulled no punches.

“I will never play arena football without Coach Mook. Period,” he stressed.

As for players, “we never talk to players until around Halloween or early November,” he revealed.

<*p(0.0,0.0,0.0,10.0,0,0,g)*C>RIVALRY RENEWED

<*p(0.0,10.0,0.0,10.0,0,0,g)*L>Cole Smelley and Connor Arlia grew up playing against each other as members of the Bridgeport and Weirton Madonna football programs, respectively. However, the talented twosome finally had the opportunity to play together during that magical 2019 championship run.

Saturday night was a different story, though.

Arlia was one of the main targets for Team Mook quarterback Arvell Nelson, who originally signed to play collegiately at the University of Iowa after a stellar prep career at Cleveland Glenville. Arlia caught two touchdowns in his team’s 40-27 win over Team Hardy, which was coached by former NFL All-Pro Greg Hardy who played for the Dallas Cowboys.

He relished the banner-raising ceremony.

“It was a great feeling. It was exciting, not only for the guys that played on that team but the guys that have come here from the Richmond team and the fans of the Ohio Valley,” Arlia said of the banner raising. “From now on when I come in here to watch a Wheeling Nailers game or watch the OVAC Wrestling Tournament, I can look up and see that banner.

“Hopefully, one day I can tell my kids that I played on that team.”

As far as playing against his friend?

“Cole and I have a nice, friendly rivalry going,” Arlia said with a smile. “I think we’ve been competing against each other since we were in 8th grade. It’s gone back and forth.”

<*p(0.0,10.0,0.0,9.5,0,0,g)*L>Smelley echoed Arlia’s thoughts.

“That brought back a lot of good memories,” he said of the banner being hoisted. “My son was here to see that. He wasn’t born yet in 2019 when we had our run, so this was the first time he got to see me play in a game, too.”

Smelley did get one shot in on Arlia as he went out for a pass.

“I had to. We’ve been going at it since junior high,” he said. “He’s a fierce competitor. He works hard. He earned the win tonight, but it was fun.”

Both plan on being a part of the team in 2022.

<*p(0.0,0.0,0.0,9.5,0,0,g)*C>ANOTHER VALLEY PRODUCT

<*p(0.0,10.0,0.0,9.5,0,0,g)*L>Steubenville High grad Jerryl Christian played for both franchises. He saw action in eight games during the Roughriders title run.

The former Big Red product has also played for the Amarillo Venom where he was a teammate of Nate Davis, a former Bellaire standout quarterback.

Christian saw action on the defensive line Saturday night.

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