North Star Reporter Intern
It was a cold, rainy day in November when the North Attleborough Jets took the field for their championship game.
The team won all eight of their regular season games, followed by two playoff victories that allowed them to move on to the Superbowl, where they beat Franklin and ultimately won the state championship as an undefeated team.
Training the team
The team started their initial training back in August, where they focused on general fitness along with skills and drills. The team is small, with only 23 players and according to head coach Zachariah Johnson, “We worked hard to make sure that we evaluated all the players based off of their past experience and ability, their size, and at this age, it was important to really take safety into consideration.”
According to Johnson, the team worked hard to be in the best possible shape going into the season.
“We felt it was important to try to align them to where we thought they would be playing so they could get as many reps as possible to develop the required skills to be successful”, Johnson stated. “That includes both football, but also just assessing their general fitness and we worked hard to work on their strength and conditioning. Knowing we only had 23 players, we were going to have to be in better shape to be able to keep up with other teams that were larger than us. And so we worked hard on that early on.”
The team practices would normally start with warmups to build on the players’ core conditioning and strength. From there they would practice offense and defense-specific drills and then come together to do group skill drills.
“And then we would come together as a team and kind of put it all together as one so we focus on the position, the group, and the team and similar for offense or defense, we would work through that same strategy for offense, defense, and then for special teams,” he said.
For special teams, Johnson said that they allowed those interested in aspects of the game like kicking and punting to practice, after which a tryout was held for those positions. According to Johnson, “We felt development was important, so we allowed multiple kids to practice all year long, but then we focused in on those individuals who would actually do it on game day.”
According to Johnson, depending on the size of the team, there is a minimum play requirement, but they wanted to go beyond that with an 11-person offense and 11-person defense so that the players would have the opportunity to be on the field and the parents could be proud watching their kids. However, with the small size of the team, Johnson said, “In many cases throughout the game, they would absolutely have to play multiple positions in order to get through the game successfully, both on offense and defense and special teams. Everyone had at least two positions they played throughout the season.”
Training younger kids is also a very different process than training teens, due to the fact that they’re all developing at different rates and l have varying levels of experience with football. As a coach, Johnson had to take these factors into consideration.
“You have to scale a lot of what you do to be more fundamental, focusing on the basics, so that you teach them how to do things the right way to avoid injury and avoid injuring others”, he said. “That in time they learned right when they come back year after year they’ll know those details, but a lot more focused on the fundamentals and safety with the youth athletes.”
One of the benefits of having a smaller team according to Johnson, is the fact that he feels he’s able to connect with each of his players on a more personal level.
“The reality is with the younger athletes, it’s really important you connect with them individually and understand who they are and where they’re coming from,” he expressed. “And it’s a lot easier to do when you have less kids to do that with less families to do that with as well. So we really came together as a team, by the end of the year we were a very close knit group of people.”
Winning the state title
Throughout the season, the team had been doing well, with winning all of their regular season games including a huge win against Franklin, a team that they had never been able to beat in previous years. It was from there that they won both of their playoff games and went on to win the Eastern Mass Championship, which led them to the state championship against a team from central Mass.
Going into the championship game the team felt cautiously optimistic, according to Johnson, who stated that they felt good based on past performance, but also had a bad week of practices and didn’t really know the team they were playing. Overall, he said that they were excited to be there and were honored to represent North Attleborough Junior Football and the community.
Though the day of the game started off cold and the team was nervous, they were able to overcome both and ultimately came out on top.
“They dominated the entire game,” Johnson said. “They played a really high level of football and really came together as a team. And you know, in the end the game was really never in question. They won the game 26 to nothing, and really put on a dominant display.”
There were a variety of different feelings after winning the championship according to Johnson.
“For myself as a coach, relief,” he expressed. “It’s amazing how much pressure you do feel, coaching a youth sport to help them achieve, you know, whatever the top level is that they could achieve. You don’t want to let them down and let their families down.”
However, for the players it was just pure elation and pride for what they were able to do.
“A lot of kids aren’t necessarily knowing each other or friends going into it and they came out of the season with lifelong memories and friendships and I think you know, to be the best you gotta beat the best and that was really how they felt afterwards,” Johnson said. “They really truly believed they were the best team in the state and they were proud of their accomplishment.”
Johnson feels that there were many factors that went into the success of the North Attleboro Jets this season.
“I think that we had a terrific group of kids that really came in and focused and pushed themselves to be the best possible version of themselves,” he said.
However, he feels the biggest key to their success was the selflessness of the players and how they were willing to sacrifice for the team when needed and as the coach all he feels is extreme pride for what his small team was able to accomplish.