Coaches often talk of building up their team’s stamina and skills with the goal of having them peak as they enter postseason play, when the best of the best square off shoulder to shoulder on the gridiron to determine which deserves the title of champion.
So it’s no surprise that Jack Hull is perhaps just a little bit proud of the 9- and 10-year-olds who make up the Cadet Football Division team he leads as head coach of the Tri City Chargers, whose teams are part of the United Youth Football League. One week ago, on Dec. 7, the team finished a six-game sweep of the division and then national playoffs in Florida to became the national champions of the United Youth Football League of the Cadet Football Division.
“They played their best football of the whole season,” Hull said by phone on Thursday afternoon. “It was a trip of a lifetime for the boys … not just the football — they got to do some fun stuff on their down time.”
Hull said his Cadet team had a very good season this year, finishing 7-1 and winning the Chicago area’s Super Bowl. From there, the Chargers headed to the regional championship, where they defeated Berwyn, Naperville and Addison in a three-game sweep. “The winning team from each region is invited to Florida,” Hull said.
So they did — 16 kids and their parents, along with the team’s four coaches headed to Tampa for a full week of football, although Hull said the Chargers’ Cadet team played only three games — one each on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
The United Youth Football League has many levels of play, Hull explained, with flag football for kindergartners, and tackle for the other divisions — grades 1-2, grades 3-4, grades 5-6 and grades 7-8. That means there were more than 100 — and perhaps as many as 150 teams — converging on Tampa for the national playoffs in their divisions. The complex where they played had six fields.
So at any given time during that week, Hull said, there were six games going on at once, morning to night.
Hull’s team, he said, had games Monday, Wednesday and Friday last week, and days off on Tuesday and Thursday. The days off, he said, were as much about making the experience as memorable for the kids as the football was.
“We took them to the beach one day and they had a great time,” Hull said. “But then we were able to take them deep-sea fishing — I bet they caught 100 fish.
“It was the trip of a lifetime,” he added.
But ultimately, it was football they traveled to Florida for, and of course it was the gridiron experience in which the youngsters really showed their mettle.
On Monday, they took on a team from the metro Philadelphia area. The Levittown Lions served as a wakeup call to the Chargers, who eked out a 22-20 victory in the final minutes of the game. “They really caught our attention,” Hull said.
They faced the Brooklyn Renegades on Wednesday, winning handily, 27-0.
But Friday’s championship was a tough, low-scoring game. Still, the Chargers prevailed 7-0 over the Cowboys, a team hailing from Buffalo, N.Y., and led by one of the toughest coaches in the league. “The Cowboys had won three of the last four championships under the same coach,” Hull said.
“We’re extremely proud of the kids,” he continued. “They played very well. The boys really stepped up. … It was quite an experience for the boys.”