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‘Canadian Thunder’ makes noise for Red and Black

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You don’t have to be from Watertown to appreciate the tradition of the nation’s oldest semipro football team, the Red and Black.

You don’t even have to be from the United States.

Watertown’s defense has been helped by a group of five Canadian players this year, who have collectively dubbed themselves “Canadian Thunder.”

“They’ve always played hard. We like their organization and the tradition that they have down here,” said the outspoken member of the bunch, Amir Farhat. “So we make the two-hour drive to come down and be a part of this tradition.”

The group, which consists of defensive linemen Farhat and Shawn Bradley, defensive backs Filippo Flocco and Nick Farah, along with Peter Kassotis, travel more than two hours from Ottawa every Tuesday and Thursday for practice, paying for their own gas on every trip.

They often travel farther for away games on Saturdays, with the lone exception being tonight’s 7:30 matchup at the Montreal Voyageurs. Each team will enter with a 1-1 record.

“Watertown has a lot of history and tradition,” added Flocco, who ranks third on the team with 11 tackles. “We like their football culture, and that’s why we came, and it’s a really good team too.”

The group has been together for more than 10 years, some even dating back to youth football more than 20 years ago.

They have spent the last eight years in the Empire Football League, playing for former league members, the Ottawa Demon Deacons and the Massena Silver and Black Raiders.

“People play football to put on a jersey, we play football to keep this brotherhood going,” Farhat said. “What this has done has made us friends on and off the field, too.”

“And we play to go for a championship,” added Bradley, noting that the group has yet to win an EFL title together.

The quintet first encountered the Red and Black as EFL rivals, and as a unit, decided to join the team after playing for head coach George Ashcraft and company in the 2010 Harvest Bowl, part of a postseason tournament that involves semipro teams throughout the Northeast.

“They play hard, they let their presence be known,” Ashcraft said. “If you’re standing around and not paying attention, you’re going to wish you didn’t. That’s how they all play.”

The reasoning behind their commitment to make the long drive two or three times a week has even been questioned by agents at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

The group said that it has been held up trying to cross the border on a couple of occasions, most recently just a few weeks ago.

“Somebody there was making some accusations about them getting paid or something foolish,” Ashcraft said. “Because they couldn’t believe that they would drive down here to play on a semipro team. But that’s what they do.”

As for the “Canadian Thunder,” nickname, the group’s explanation was simple.

“We’re Canadian. And we bring the thunder on the field,” Flocco said.

Farhat has a marketing idea for the moniker that could resolve the gas money issue, if it ever actually comes to fruition.

“We’re going to get shirts made up and all proceeds go to our gas,” he joked.

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