It had been four years since the Augusta ’Noles took home a youth football national championship. Head coach Leroy Craig knew it was time for another.
The 10-and-under ’Noles swept through the North American Youth Football playoffs to claim their third national championship in program history in December.
“It was wonderful,” Craig said. “We hadn’t won it since 2008 and it was kind of due. The kids came together.”
The ’Noles beat teams from Maryland, Ohio and Virginia to win the title, ending their season at 8-1. They were presented with rings in an awards banquet soon after winning the championship.
The Augusta program, headed by Craig, includes four age groups ranging from 5-14. It was the first championship for the 8-10 age group. The 13-14 squad won in 2005, and the 5-7 team won in 2008.
Craig said the program plays nearly all year, with seasons divided between spring and fall. The spring season begins in February, which has been a promising one to date – all but one team got off to a 5-0 start. After taking two months off, the fall season begins.
“It’s just a program where we deal with a lot of inner-city kids,” Craig said. “It keeps the kids off the street and gives them something positive to do.”
With the help of coaches and parents, Craig has built the program into a winner. A ’Noles team made it to the championship game seven years in a row when he became coach, and has totaled three national titles.
“The kids have a good time and we have a good time,” he said. “It was a tough season last year, but it was fun. We always look forward to coming out and doing it again every year.”
The program practices and plays at Meadowbrook Park. It’s involved in the YESFL, which totals 14 counties in Georgia and South Carolina. It also includes cheer competitions.
The YESFL is part of Youth Educational Sports, Inc., which stresses the importance of education while playing athletics.
Dontrel Smith, who is 7 years old and in his third season, keeps playing simple.
“I just like to tackle,” he said. “I’m a fast runner and can catch, too.”