After five decades of Pop Warner, the Englewood Cats exited the league in May. Board members regrouped and joined the American Youth Football league. The season is in full swing. Today, the Cats will play the Huskies in North Port.
Board member Shane Whitmore says many positive changes occurred since the Cats made the switch.
The Sun asked Whitmore questions about the new season, new players and the football and cheerleaders’ place in a new league.
Are there weight limits in the American Youth League?
“No. AYF has football divisions without player-weight limits. The league rules are more in line with high school football which makes it much easier for our players to transition into high school football.”
The Sun did some math on the offensive and defensive line Englewood Cats’ 14-U players team. The combined weight of the 10 players is 2,275 pounds. That’s an average of 227.50 pounds per lineman. Is that considered a lot of muscle protecting the quarterback and blocking for the running backs?
“Yes. It’s definitely been a game changer in how we run our offense. We couldn’t run between the tackles in the other league and now it’s a big part of our game. It brought us a lot of kids who didn’t think they could play because of their weight. Now players are in a natural position that were not being filled because we couldn’t bring in the bigger kids.”
How many new football and cheerleaders joined the Cats this season?
“We have 45 kids we didn’t have last year, so now we have 150 in the league. In the 14-U team, there are eight of 10 kids who couldn’t play under the previous rules. That team is 3-1 now. We also gained cheerleaders because their brothers are now able to play football in our league.”
There is a 13-year-old player Justice Hedges who is 6’3” and 315 pounds. Since it’s his first year playing, how has he done so far?
“Justice has been a shadow in school for years. When he first came to play football, he wasn’t able to run a lap without taking breaks every 10 minutes. Now, he is fully acclimated and lost weight. He shakes my hand at the beginning and end of every practice. He says ‘thank you’ at the end of practice. Numerous times, his parents told me they are ecstatic of what they’ve seen so much pride in Justice’s ability to come play football.”
Are there other standouts?
“Yes, 13-year-old Daniel Romanelli (tackle-noseguard, 5-feet-11, 250 pounds) wasn’t previously able to play. Now, he’s one of our best players on the line. He’s quiet, but is a dominant force. He shows up with a grin and can’t wait to play. He loves contact and all the natural parts of the game. Even after injuries, he’s full force, back at it.
“Our quarterback (Matt Whitmore) looks totally different this season. He’s more confident. Having the new teammates is a big change for him because he feels the security in front of him. All of our running backs are running harder and breaking tackles. From day one, the teams quickly developed into a thigh knit group of kids. We taught to think of as family and now they are very good friends. Twenty of my 22 kids could return and play next year at this level.”
The Cats’ 14-U line also includes center-defensive tackle Aydan Wear (5-feet-8, 205 pounds), guard-defensive tackle Owen Tannehill (5-feet-10, 205 pounds) guard-defensive tackle Michael Ward (5-feet-10, 230 pounds), tackle Aidan Bell 5-feet-10, 235 pounds), and tackle Carson Gowdy (6-feet, 240 pounds).
Are there more people attending home games now?
“Yes, our games are crowded again. There’s lots of new families supporting the Cats. Everything is brand new to us. There seems to be an excitement in the air about the football and cheer programs again.
Our travel has been lessened and it’s helpful to parents. Our cheerleaders are having a public showcase at Lemon Bay High School on Sunday. Our final home games of the regular season are Oct. 19 and Oct. 26. If we win, the play offs are Nov. 2. If we keep going, the national championships are at Universal Studios in early December. Some of our players have already been there, but it’s been a while. We are ready for that opportunity again.”
For more information about the Cats, email firstname.lastname@example.org