By Samantha Sciarrotta
The 95-pound and 110-pound Bordentown Bulldogs youth football teams were among the best in the league last year. Both squads went undefeated in the regular season, their only losses coming in their respective league championship games.
So what happened when the two squads with kids between the ages of 10 and 13 came together to form one team this year?
Exactly what head coach Mike Smith expected them to do. The team became the first in league history to go undefeated in consecutive seasons.
“We said in the beginning of the season, I’ve never coached a team with so many talented kids,” he said. “We were a little concerned with whether or not they could play together as a team, but they’ve come together and excelled. They feed off of each other’s abilities.”
Smith cites quarterback Noah Jackson and twins Coleon and Cortaz Williams as being some of the team’s top players.
“Our quarterback is 12 years old,” he said. “He’s extremely smart. As a coach, when you can have a 12-year-old come to the sideline and say, ‘Hey, they’re doing this, they’re doing that, why don’t we try this, I think this will work,’ it’s not really something you see that often at this age. Two twins, Cortaz and Coleon Williams, the way they read on defense, and they’re beasts on offense. They’re just overall good kids and leaders.”
Smith and assistant coach Mike Denelsbek said because there was so much talent coming in from both sides, setting a lineup at the start of the season was a tough task.
“It’s just the fact that we were nervous at first because there were a couple of standout kids, maybe with different attitudes,” Denelsbek said. “It took us a good three hours to figure out where we could put everybody. They all adjusted to each other and came together.”
It wasn’t easy for the kids. Coleon said the two groups kept to themselves at first.
“We didn’t know the 95s that much,” he said. “The 110s just hung around, and the 95s hung with each other.”
Sammy Mazzella, who came from the younger, lighter squad, agreed.
“The 95s, at first we thought the 110s were taller and scarier, then when we got to know them, they were better,” he said.
Players and coaches said the true test came in the season’s first game. After that, they started to live up to the “One Team” mantra Smith and his staff had been preaching from day one.
Leading 21-19 near the end of the game, the Bulldogs were forced to punt in their last offensive series. They opted for the fake, though, but botched it. A Maple Shade player picked the ball up after a fumble and ran it all the way back to Bordentown’s 10 yard line. With one minute to go, the game-winning touchdown seemed likely. Likely, though, isn’t a sure thing, and the defense made the stop.
“We knew they were special,” Smith said. “We looked at each other, and to come up big at the end of that game, you could tell that brought them closer together.”
The boys certainly felt like it did.
“It really showed that we could work together,” Jackson said. “It was scary when our punter fumbled. We knew we were probably going to have to go against them again. We wanted to go in with a little edge, At first, when we came back to that practice, we had to run a lot. Afterwards, we realized if we work together, we can win.”
Denelsbek said it’s helped them in other ways.
“The last minute of that game brought them closer together, and we’ve been telling them that all year long,” he said. “During the year, we’ve had some key injuries. We’ve had a few of our starters miss games. I think that goal-line stand brought our team together to overcome those injuries.”
It was also unlike anything he’d ever seen in Bordentown-area football.
“It was a confidence booster more than anything,” he said. “I’ve been around Bordentown football for 10 years now. Normally, you see all the kids defeated. They’re done. ‘They’ll score, there’s a minute left, we’ll get the next one.’ We called a timeout and went out into that huddle, and the kids had that attitude like, ‘They’re not going to score.’ We’d worked too hard. It was a big morale booster for the entire team and for us as coaches, too.”
It carried them all the way through the regular season up to the playoffs, where the squad lost 35-14 to Maple Shade. Losing, Cortaz said, “doesn’t feel right,” but the coaches are happy with the season either way.
“Not one kid hasn’t contributed to any aspect of any win that we’ve had,” Denelsbek said. “We put people in positions whether we’re winning big or it’s a close game. Everybody’s stepped up individual-wise.”