This season of Pop Warner football marks the first time that the 11-year-old teams will compete in Florida for the annual Pop Warner Super Bowl. One of eight teams that will be battling out on the gridiron is your local Santa Clara Lions.
The Santa Clara Lions 11-year-old squad is called the Wildcats. The team qualified for the national tournament by winning an epic seesaw battle in the championship game. Eventually, the Lions pulled off a 32-31 victory in triple overtime and will now get to travel across the country for more football.
“Pure heart” is how Lions Athletic Director Craig Connelly described this year’s 11U Wildcats. “We are probably the youngest and lightest team out there. But they are well trained and have a great coaching staff.”
According to Head Coach Roger Young, his squad of players came up with an impressive game day cheer prior to kickoff without any advice from the coaches.
“They came out to the championship and usually you hear ‘Wildcats on three. Wildcats on me,’ and instead they came out with ‘family on three,’” said Young. “It gave me goosebumps. Family? Wow. And they said, ‘We can’t do brotherhood because we have a sister, so it’s family.’”
“I’ve been playing football for about five years, but it was only flag,” remarked sixth-grader Ava Imahara on playing her first season this year of tackle football. “My brother was playing so I would just see him and go play with him.”
“It doesn’t really matter to me if I’m a girl or not. Everyone should be treated the same,” remarked Imahara on what it’s like being the only girl on the team.
She confirmed that she does indeed get treated just like everyone else.
“I’ve had four or five girls over the years on my various teams,” chimed coach Young. “I feel like it brings balance to the team. We look at every player on the team as human. We teach them to look at each other all as humans and they do just that.”
The total number of humans on this year’s Wildcats team is 23. A true team atmosphere always has a number of different leaders on the field and off the field, one of those leaders is quarterback Roddy Rodriguez.
“We don’t give up,” noted Rodriguez when asked to describe the team’s strengths. “We stick together through the whole game. Even when we were losing in the fourth quarter with a minute left, we still scored and forced overtime.”
That overtime win in the championship now gives all of these kids their first plane ride for the purpose of playing sports. For some of them, it will be their first flight ever. As one could imagine, the kids are extremely giddy about the opportunity.
“I’m just super excited,” remarked running back and safety Junior Medina. “It’s going to be different. I’m a little nervous too.”
“I feel like a college team,” beamed linebacker and tight end Erick Delgado. “Like when you go to the Rose Bowl.”
The Wildcats will fly out to Florida later this week with the first game in the Pop Warner Super Bowl tournament on Sunday, Dec. 4.