Bulldogs youth football seeing success (PHOTOS)
Gallery: Bordentown Bulldogs Youth Football [30 Images] Click any image to expand.
A group of football players gather in early evening to watch film, hoping to uncover ways to continue the success they have enjoyed so far this season.
Heavy rain had washed out their practice and forced them inside, but they understand much still can be accomplished during the impromptu study session. It is not a group of professional, college, or even high school players. It is members of the Bordentown Bulldogs youth football program, ages 11 and 12. And while the preparation and instruction are important, head coach Mike Smith’s goal is to see the results extend beyond the playing field.
“It’s not just about football, it’s about life lessons,” said Smith, who is in his fifth season with the Bulldogs and second year as president of the organization’s board. “I try to give them a new quote every game day or at practice, whether it’s from a coaching icon or from a philosopher. Just something to show them it’s not just about going out there and playing football.
“Seeing them grasp that and grow, both mentally and physically, is the most rewarding thing for me. Seeing them smile at the end of the day is what it’s all about.”
Smith’s squad had good reason to smile all around. After five weeks of the eight-game season, his Bulldogs were 4-1. In fact, the team’s success was indicative of the program as a whole. All of the Bordentown teams had a winning record, led by the oldest group, ages 13 and 14, at 5-0.
“We play together and we’ve got each other’s backs,” 12-year-old Kyle Dowgin said. “We have a lot of confidence in each other.”
The Bulldogs play in the West Jersey Youth Football League, with the likes of Robbinsville, Lawrence, Florence, Northern Burlington, Maple Shade, Westville, Seneca, Pine Hill and Atco.
There are five divisions, separated by age and weight: 4- to 6-year-olds, with a 60-pound maximum; 7- to 8-year-olds, 85 pounds; 9- to 10-year-olds, 100 pounds; 11- to 12-year-olds, 115 pounds; and 13- to 14-year-olds, 135 pounds. Bordentown totals 106 players in the program, which was established in 2004.
In addition, the Bulldogs have a cheerleading program, with nearly two dozen participants.
“When Bordentown started the program, it was rough in the beginning; the numbers were light,” said Smith, who played football at Notre Dame High School and Kean University. “As we’ve seen the program get better, the numbers have risen.
"Our league doesn’t require that you live in Bordentown. I’d say 85 to 90 percent of our kids are from Bordentown, but we do get some kids from other areas. We wouldn’t look to take a kid from a town that has a program in our league, but there are no boundaries, so to speak.”
The Bulldogs, a nonprofit organization that receives no money from the township, play their home games on Saturdays and Sundays at Bordentown Regional Middle School.
Although the Bulldogs are still seeking their first league championship, they have enjoyed plenty of good seasons, with multiple division titles. In 2012, the program sent three teams to the playoffs, and as of mid-October this year was on track to get four squads into the postseason for the first time.
“I like the thrill of winning games and bonding as a team,” said 12-year-old Kenny Asare, who plays on the offensive and defensive lines. “I think the keys this year have been the hard work we put in at practice, and executing during games. If you don’t execute, you’re going to lose. Coach tells us lots of stuff to make as better, but if we don’t use the stuff he tells us, we won’t be successful.”
Smith uses an Internet-based system to distribute game videos to the players’ parents. When the opportunity presents itself, like on a rainy practice day, he will go over film with his players.
“It’s a nice tool for them to learn and it helps us see what our kids do,” Smith said. “Some people think we’re a little over the top when it comes to preparation, but that makes the kids better. We can go over some looks they’re going to see. One thing with kids, you can tell them all you want, but if you can demonstrate it or show it, that’s better. They need to see it.”
Twelve-year-old Max Berton, another offensive/defensive lineman, said the preparation pays off.
“We understand our mistakes from watching film, so we can get better,” Berton said. “If you’re going to have a good team, you have to execute well together. We don’t have just one good player, we have lots of good players at different positions, and we all come together as a team to be a good team.
“When I first started, I didn’t really know anything. Now we’re getting into more elaborate blocking schemes and defensive plays. It’s a lot different, and better.”
The Bulldogs program is not only providing young players with a foundation when it comes to football, it is becoming a feeder program for Bordentown High.
“Probably in the last three years, we’ve been seeing that more and more,” Smith said. “There are a bunch of sophomores and freshmen on the high school team that played for us. It’s nice to be able to go and see them play.”
Berton, for one, hopes that someday his current coaches are watching him there.
“I’d like to play for the high school team,” he said. “I think that would be really cool to play in front of a bigger crowd and represent Bordentown at that level.”