With one Wilmington school still fighting for a state championship in high school football this season, a local youth team is also making strides at the national level as the Wilmington Coastal Eagles Midget football squad prepares for the 59th Annual Pop Warner Super Bowl at ESPN Wide of Sports Complex in Disney World.
For the first time since 1992, a team from the inner city of Wilmington has qualified for nationals. The players, ages 12-15, battled through a nine-week season to qualify for the event December 5-12.
“We’ve been working hard and establishing a foundation over the years with this group,” said Eagles Head Coach Eric Thompson, a former Pop Warner player who competed for the Wilmington Colts as a Pop Warner Super Bowl participant. “Our group of 20 or so has shown great commitment. They’ve been through struggles. We face many issues being inner city, but it’s never been an excuse with our group.”
Like many youth sports teams, the Eagles have grown up alongside each other, with many of the coaches and players working together on the football field for the last six or seven years. The camaraderie has paid off for a group of hardworking youngsters looking to represent Wilmington and their team on the highest stage.
“We keep working hard, no matter win or lose,” said Isaiah Wright. “You’ve got to work hard to play great and never give up.”
Thompson’s coaching mindset has not only helped the team grow, but each individual player is learning what it takes to be a contributor on and off the field. Thompson credits his life in football and the coaches he played under to helping him better understand the fact that there’s more than just x’s and o’s to the game.
“I played under some of the best football coaches in Wilmington,” Thompson added. “We’ve developed a brotherhood and they’ve done a great job following our code of drive, determination and dedication that separates us from the rest to be the best. That’s in the classroom, in the field and we’ve tried to instill that in these young men.”
The skill position players at quarterback, running back and wide receiver may receive most of the limelight when it comes to scoring touchdowns, but no team would be successful without a strong core on the offensive line. For 12-year old Trevonte Bess, he understands that he may not receive all the attention on game day, but credits his coaches and family to giving him the right attitude to excel.
“I’m part of this team and it doesn’t really bother me that I’m on the line,” said Bess. “The coaches and my dad push me to work hard.”
Grant Wilcox is another one of those offensive linemen who battles in the trenches. His most favorite part about playing football is having the ability to go home and practice some of the things he wants to get better at so come game time he’s doing his part to help the team succeed.
“There’s a lot of team work and I feel like we all kind of bond,” said Wilcox, who plays center.
While winning football games is the number one goal heading into their road trip later this week, excitement is building for the journey itself as only one player on the team has ever been to Disney World.
“I think it’ll be a good time,” George Morris said. “It’s my first time going and I think I might miss my family, but I don’t mind it as long as I’m playing football.”
The Pop Warner Super Bowl consists of 72 teams from eight Pop Warner Regions playing in five age/weight classifications (Jr. Pee Wee, Pee Wee, Jr. Midget, Midget & Unlimited). There are also two playing divisions, Division I and Division II, each fielding 32 teams, plus eight Unlimited Division teams.
The Eagles compete in the Division II Midget classification and face the Naperville Chargers from Illinois in the opening round at 6 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 5. Teams from California, Florida, Rhode Island and Washington D.C. round out the eight-team bracket.
More than 85 games take place throughout the seven-day event. Throughout the week long tournament, 24 games will air live on ESPN and WatchESPN.
The Eagles are scheduled to leave in the overnight hours of December 3 to travel to Florida. Keep up with their run to a national title during Super Bowl week at http://www.popwarnersb.com/15superbowl/d2midget.asp.