COVINGTON, Ga. - The East Metro Steelers, a youth travel football team that practices at Newton High School, has had its most successful seasons to date, and their 9U and 10U teams received invites to vie for the Youth National Championship.
The Youth National Championship tournament is in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and is taking place from Dec. 11-15. The first day of the tournament was registration for each of the respective teams, with opening-round games on Thursday, Dec. 12.
Steelers 9U head coach Noel Wilson made it known that getting to this point took a ton of dedication and hard work from the players on his squad, and it started way earlier in the year.
“The first practice we had was back on February 24th. It’s almost like a year-round deal with us, and this time last year, we knew where we wanted to be, so we started reaching out to parents in hopes of getting together at the end of February,” Wilson said. “We started out by playing in 7-on-7 tournaments just to find separate our skill guys from the guys, who were going to be in the trenches. We ended up winning one of the 7-on-7 tournaments and finishing second to the number one team in the nation in another 7-on-7 tournament, so it was a great start.”
Wilson said after that great showing to start the year, they knew they had something special with this 9U group. He called a parent meeting and let them know they would be playing a national schedule that would play out until December and the Youth National Championship, which many parents could not believe.
“They didn’t believe me at first, but they believe me now,” Wilson said with a chuckle. “Our first tournament that we played in was against the number one team in the nation, which is Atlanta Bulldogs Academy. They invited us to their 9U tournament, and they had teams from out of state and the Atlanta metro area. We weren’t ranked nationally or in the state, but we ended up beating the number one team from Louisiana and Alabama and ended up placing third in that tournament.”
After that excellent showing, the 9U Steelers team went on to compete in a couple of other national tournaments that were hosted in the Atlanta area, and they placed no lower than second place, including winning the Centennial Bowl.
Next on the 9U Steelers gauntlet of a schedule was the youth preseason nationals in Mobile, Alabama. They won preseason nationals, as they did not lose a single game at the event, and that’s when Wilson “knew we were really onto something then.”
All of these impressive preseason showings led to high expectations for the Steelers’ regular season, and they did not disappoint. The Steelers went undefeated in the regular season, and they outscored their opponents 229-12.
With such an impressive resume, it would be expected this 9U Steelers team would be one of the first teams to earn an invite to the Youth National Championship, but their wait took much longer than spectators would have expected.
“We were one of the last teams to get an invite. At that point, we were the number eleven team in the nation and only the number four team in the state,” Wilson said. “At the time, the playoffs started, and we didn’t give up any points up in the playoffs. We ended up winning our league championship and the morning of our league championship on November the 9th we received the invite to the national championship.”
Wilson said that he did not let his coaches, players and parents know of the invite until after the game because he didn’t want to jinx it. After his Steelers got their 14-0 revenge on Tigers Elite in the league championship game, who beat the Steelers in the league championship game last year 19-0, he gave everyone the news that they had qualified.
The 9U Steelers also competed for the state championship, for the first time in team history, this past Sunday against the number one team in the nation, the Atlanta Bulldogs, but fell just short.
In that league championship game, the 14 points all came from the outstanding play of one of the Steelers’ best athletes, Jaden Craver. Craver returned two punts for touchdowns, and his outstanding athletic ability has been on display for the Steelers since before the season began.
Craver had earned Centenniel Bowl MVP honors in their preseason tournament and was also the League championship game MVP.
Alongside Craver as the team’s top “game changers” is running back Kevin Hartsfield and quarterback Damorion Pittman. Wilson highlighted that Pittman did an excellent job stepping up and taking over as the quarterback when the team’s regular starter was unable to play.
When asked about Hartsfield, Wilson said his ability to fight for short yards and break free for long gains is what made him so very special to this year’s team.
Outscoring opponents 229-12 not only shows how remarkable the 9U Steelers offense has been, but is a testament to the outstanding defense the Steelers boast.
The one area that Wilson boasted about when talking about his team was the size up front, and he knows that is what has set them apart from year’s past.
“I think I have the two best defensive ends in the nation in 9U football and they are Christopher Jackson and Devin Barber,” Wilson said. “Desmond Williams is my other stud, and he’s been with East Metro since he started playing football. Aiden Howard is our nose tackle, and he’s unstoppable. Every 9U team in Atlanta wants him.”
Wilson said many teams in 9U lack the size up front, but with these guys, he never has to worry about that being the problem, and he knows that has given this team a huge boost.
A team can have all the talent in the world and lose a championship because of a lack of in-game experience. Wilson understood that from the beginning, and he said he believes the constant reps that his guys have gotten in the multitude of games they have played have helped them in the long run.
“The reps that we give our guys. If we’re not playing games, we’re scrimmaging. So far in this season alone, it may seem like a lot, but we’ve played over 30 games, so it gives a big advantage over teams that start play at the regular season,” Wilson said. “The early preparation puts us ahead, and I learned that from other coaches and other programs like the number one team in the nation, which is from Atlanta. They hosted their first tournament on July 19th.”
Wilson is very thankful to the parents and the commitment that both they and the players have had this season, and he even said that “If it wasn’t for them, we wouldn’t be here today.”
Regardless of his team’s showing in the Youth National Championship, Wilson is proud of his players, coaches, parents and everyone, who played a role in getting the team to where they are today.
“Man, I’m super proud of this team. Everyone weekend after a game, I send out a text to tell the parents to thank them for their commitment every week,” Wilson said. “I know how tight this schedule is and taking away their weekends, so I’m so proud of these guys.”