There are two things that stand out most about Santa Clara Lions Head Coach Craig Connelly. First is that he played on the inaugural Lions team back in 1960 and has been coaching since the late 60s. Secondly, and as a rather fitting example of the community feel and camaraderie of his team, he hates individual statistics.
“If all we do is talk about a kid getting three touchdowns a game, what about that guard and tackle that busted a hole for him?” (rhetorically) asked coach Connelly after a mid-November practice at Townsend field in Santa Clara. “I don’t believe in individual stats. I always keep a stats book, but my stats book is purely defensive.”
With deep roots in Santa Clara, Connelly’s team is proof of a small community coming together in helping shape its youth through the game of football.
“We have kids from all levels, economically,” remarked the head coach. “I have some kids out there fundraising like it’s nobody’s business. With the history I have in this city, 55-60 years, I had two [former] players sponsor kids completely, the whole dollar amount for each one of the kids. With somebody with history like I have in our city and our community, that’s the difference. We have that family support with all the years of [alumni] that have played. There’s thousands of them that have been through my program. A lot of them are business people, council people, everybody in the community.”
After an undefeated (10-0) season in their Peninsula Pop Warner League, the Lions will travel to Florida for the second straight season to participate in the 60th Pop Warner Super Bowl. This group of 13-15 year-olds will compete in an eight-team playoff in their division. In total, 32 teams from around the country in various divisions will convene in the sunshine state. A handful of Santa Clara players will be making their second trip to Florida. The success of Connelly’s Lions certainly isn’t surprising, his kids love the game of football.
“I just like the contact” commented running back and linebacker Joey Sanchez. “I just like hitting someone, relieves all the stress.”
“I’ve always liked football, since I was younger,” added running back and free safety Aaron Ah Sing. “I’ve been playing it since I was like six or seven.”
These young teenagers were, as you could imagine, a bit nervous about being interviewed for the WEEKLY. However, with the strong community roots of the program, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that their longest answers were when asked to talk about their coaching staff.
“I like our coaching staff, they are like another family I can always come to. [Just] very welcoming” responded Ah Sing, who moved to Santa Clara from Hawaii just three years ago.
“I like the coaches because there is no favoritism. And yeah, they are like another family,” chimed Sanchez. “You can talk to them if you have anything going on.”
“I consider them like second parents” added offensive guard and linebacker Cesar Orozco. “I think they teach you even more about football than even high school.”
Sanchez and Ah Sing both said they are hoping to play college football someday, preferably at Hawaii State. Ah Sing would love to return to where he grew up and Sanchez would love to join him there.
“My favorite college is Hawaii State too” replied Sanchez during a group interview with his teammates. “I just wanna go there to play with my friends.”
As the team prepares for their trip to the east coast, Coach Connelly noted that coaches from around the country will all be scrambling for game tape to scout their opponents. These may just be young kids, but they still watch tape and scout their opponents. This is some serious football. Last year the Lions finished the Super Bowl in third place, and they are hungry to win the whole thing this time around.
All 26 players and six members of the Lions’ coaching and executive staff will leave for Florida on Nov. 30th. Their first game will be on Dec. 4.