Tampa Bay Buccaneers thrive in new adaptive league

Hillsborough Co. squad looks to bring home tournament title
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Posted at 2:55 PM, Oct 28, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-28 18:54:35-04

TAMPA, Fla. — Their official name is the Hillsborough County Buccaneers Wheelchair Football Team, but you can call them the Bucs.

They're part of the nine-team USA Wheelchair Football League that was started by Move United, an adaptive sports organization affiliated with the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee. The NFL's Buccaneers quickly jumped on board and provided use of the team's name and logo, along with helmets and other equipment.

In September, the Bucs traveled to Phoenix and won their first four games before losing in the championship of the first tournament they ever played. This weekend, they head to Kansas City in search of the top prize.

Head coach Wayne Bozeman wasn't surprised by his team's early success.

"A lot of them are great athletes, already," he said before practice. "And it’s not hard to be a coach for ‘em because you show them the basics, and they take it and run from there."

Lin Pagano has played adaptive sports his entire life from basketball to sled hockey to water skiing. Since adaptive football is basically brand new, Pagano had never played before. It's fair to say he got the hang of it pretty early. Pagano scored the first touchdown on the first play in Bucs history.

"I caught the ball, and I kept going. The whole time, I’m like 'Oh my gosh, is someone behind me?! Am I gonna get tagged, or something?' And I had no idea," Pagano recalled. "I’m like 'Oh my gosh, this is such a great thing. It’s pretty cool.'"

Pagano said it'll be fun to tell that story when his playing days are over, but for now, he just wants to help his team rack up more wins.

"We all want to win. So we’re all going to do what we can do to win," he said. "Getting that first touchdown, it was a little bit of icing on the cake. But at the end of the day, we’re all in it together."

Shelton Mobley lost his left leg in a jet ski accident in May 2000. He thought his football playing days were over, but this new league is giving him a chance to prove that his days on the gridiron didn't end in high school.

"It’s living a dream that I thought was gone," Mobley said. "For me, finding adaptive sports and meeting people just changed my whole mindset. It made me think 'Hold up, I can still do some stuff. I gotta do it differently, now.' Sometimes different turns out to be a little bit better."

Wheelchair football hasn't been around nearly as long as basketball or some of the other adaptive sports, but Bozeman said he's excited to see the game continue to grow.

"It’s very exciting to see these guys get back on the football field and play the game that they love to play. I can’t say it in words, what it makes me feel like," Bozeman said.

Move United and the NFL are still ironing out some wrinkles, but Pagano said that's what life is all about.

"It’s a big learning curve for everybody, and life is about adapting. It’s one big life lesson," he said.

It's a lesson about never saying never and growing sports for everyone.

"Finding something that gives you that drive and that passion, and you’ll forget about the obstacles," Mobley added. "The obstacles become like a challenge that you look forward to overcoming."