NORWALK, Conn. -- Bert Borges has no idea what he’ll do next August. After 12 years of handing out gear and meeting players for the first practice for his teams in the Norwalk Junior Football League at the height of summer, the contractor by day and coach by fall will not have a team to coach.
Borges, the coach of the 8th grade Norwalk Packers, takes his team to Florida this weekend for the American Youth Football national championships. The Packers are one of eight teams in the 13-and-under division of the tournament, which will be played in Kissimmee, Fla.
The Packers are raising funds through a Go Fund Me page , and are also having a fundraiser on Wednesday, Nov. 30, at Ischoda Yacht Club in Norwalk from 6-9 p.m. More information is on the attached picture.
Borges has coached the team since the boys were in third grade. It was his second stint in the league after previously coaching an older son, Joe, for six years. His younger son, Vincent, played with this year’s group for four years before turning to lacrosse and soccer while his father stayed at the helm. Vincent and Joe assist with coaching the team.
“I don’t know what I’ll do next year,’’ said Borges, the owner of B&B Builders in Norwalk. “I know a lot of other coaches have been asking me to give them a hand. It’s a lot of work, even if you’re not practicing. I can help consult so I don’t have to be there all the time.”
The season starts with training in August, sometimes as much as six practices a week. Once games start in late August, the team practices less frequently but plays games every weekend.
“Part of the upside of being self-employed is that you make your own hours,’’ Borges said. “It kind of hurts me working Saturdays. Sometimes I have to leave my guys on the job to go coach. August is really tough. Once I get through August, I kind of have things figured out.”
Borges’ teams have been championship material from the outset. Borges also had a built-in advantage in that he knew some of the boys and their parents from his previous team. “Some of these parents haven’t known any other coach but me,’’ Borges said.
Under Borges' leadership, the Packers have won four Connecticut youth football league titles, two state titles and one regional title. They did not win a title at any level last year.
"Sometimes you get a little complacent,’’ Borges said. “It’s hard to keep the kids up when you win three in a row. They think they can just show up and it’s enough. We lost to New Britain during the regular season, and then we had some injuries when we played them in the playoffs. One of our players broke an ankle in the first quarter. It just got away from us.”
This year’s team faced its own challenges, too. “We had tons of off the field injuries,’’ Borges said. “Every week it seemed like somebody else was hurt. We had kids get hurt playing touch football and was out three weeks. One kid got bit by a dog, it was just weird. We lost more games this year than we did in any two years put together.”
The playoffs, however, were a completely different matter. In the state championship against New Britain, which beat Norwalk during the regular season, the Packers stormed to a 32-0 victory. In the New England playoffs, Norwalk beat Rhode Island, 45-24, behind five touchdowns by Khalil Eason. Norwalk defeated Leominster, 36-20, in the New England final to earn the right to advance to the tournament in Florida.
Borges said the team patterned its offense after the Brien McMahon High School program. Whereas the Packers were once bigger and faster than other teams, the team is now smaller than most opponents but uses quickness and precision with its Wing-T offense to confound opponents.
“We do a lot of trapping and pulling,’’ Borges said. “A lot of youth teams don’t run that offense because it’s too complicated for kids this age. For us it has worked well, and our kids know the season. We’ve had the same coaching staff, so the kids don’t have to relearn things ever year. We have a lot of quickness, and we’re a little smaller and more athletic than most teams. Our offense fits right in with what we do.”
Borges played high school football for a few years growing up in Stamford, and in recreational football leagues after he graduated from Brien McMahon. He has earned the respect of players for more than a decade in the league, some of whom have gone on to college. At the Thanksgiving game between Norwalk and McMahon, some former players visited Borges to show their encouragement.
“I never thought it would be something like this,’’ Borges said. “I love football, but I just started doing it because of my son. I didn’t think it would last this long. The kids are refreshing. They teach you something every day. They have an outlook on life that is pure and clean. I enjoy all the relationships I’ve built over the years. I think what my coaches and I have done is teach a lot of life lessons.”
Players on the Packers are: Khalil Eason, Andre "AJ" Robinson, Izayah Valentine, Koy Price, Nehemiah "Nemo" Harris, Arthur "Artie" Cocchia, Allan Torres, Christian Schaffer, Thomas Hargrove, Thomas "Tommy" Brown, Trevian Taylor, Angel Betancourt, Jason Lindsay, Lorenzo Delfino, Austin Hall, Najee Hamlette, Kemari Davis, Michael "Mikey" Ruggiero, Jake Lusardo and Jack Burley.
Borges’ coach staff includes Lawrence Davis, Idris Price and Andre Robinson.
The AYF will set up brackets for the tournament during a coaches meeting on Dec. 3. All teams will play a minimum of two games. Fans who want to watch games can purchase a livestream through the AYF website .
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