(Patrick D. Rosso/Boston.com/2012)
Local youths were hustling Monday night at Almont Park in Mattapan as the Mattapan Patriots prepared for their upcoming season.
The local Pop Warner team has been at the park throughout the summer getting players in shape for the fall games and providing an outlet for all that extra energy.
“I think it’s a lot of fun,” said Justin Andino, 14, of Roxbury, who plays on the team’s A Squad. “It keeps me off the streets and I do better in school, because my mom won’t let me play if my grades aren’t good.”
Keeping young people focused is a key goal of parents and coaches show up to Almont Field every year.
“I think the biggest thing I see in a sport is the self-confidence the kids gain,” said Donald Caisey, president of the team and a former Mattapan Patriots player in his younger days. “It shows them team spirit, how to motivate each other, and stick together as a team.”
Like Caisey, many who help out with the team have been in the neighborhood their whole lives and see the team as a way to give back.
“It keeps the kids off the streets and gives them positive role models,” said Ernest Moses Jr., who has been working with the team for nine years. “We want to give the kids an opportunity to come out, have fun, and let out that frustration and anxiety of everyday life.”
It would be surprising if any of the kids who took part in the pre-season camp had any energy left after running drills for two hours in the summer sun.
“We’re going to be in better shape than them; we’re going to run them off the field,” Lloyd “Big Chris” Nugent shouted at his players while they ran drills on a recent day.
Many parents were also happy to have their sons playing a game with friends and not hanging out on the streets getting into trouble.
“They have a great program and really invest in the kids,” said Kathleen Wise, whose 8-year-old son plays on the team. “It’s important that the coaching staff connects with the kids. Football teaches them discipline and structure and how to work together.”
Training for the upcoming season is getting underway, but there are still plenty of spaces open for youths ages 7 – 15.
While many of the players already have experience, the team gladly welcomes all skill levels and abilities.
“For me the big thing is when I walk around my neighborhood and I see a kid who used to play with us and he tells me he just graduated from college,” said Caisey. “Football is just a way to get them to focus on doing the right thing. It’s the carrot on the stick.”
The season officially starts Sept. 9. Each of the Patriots' five squads will play eight regular season games. To find out more about the team and how to get involved, click here.