The Mountain Times

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The Green Knights padded flag football program scores a touchdown with area youth

The "green team" offensive line blocks for their running back as they march towards the end zone.

RUTLAND-Coach Jeff Cassarino and Coach Rich Alercio have both been coaching football for many years. Over those years they have seen their share of injuries and concussions, so with their sons entering junior high they started to toss around the idea of a padded flag football team as an option to tackle for kids that age. Little did they know at the time that the response would be overwhelming.

Back in the spring the idea was born with the thought that their sons and their friends would be a good group to start with. After putting an advertisement in the paper about the program and by word of mouth they ended up having around 35 kids from Rutland and surrounding towns show up for practice this fall.

The team is sponsored by the Knights of Columbus in Rutland hence the name "Green Knights." Both coaches agree the funding has been outstanding providing all the kids with brand new uniforms, pads and helmets. If you have ever played football at any level then you know that brand new equipment is rarely seen. Not only have the Knights of Columbus been extremely supportive, so has Mount Saint Joseph high school. Coach Cassarino is currently their varsity football coach and when he approached the school to ask for permission to use their field and practice facilities they were more than happy to help out.

"Padded flag football and regular tackle football differ in one major area and that is the point of contact," says coach Alercio.
"They are not taking anybody to the ground. It's actually the way college teams and NFL teams practice all year long. No one is taking running backs at that level down to the ground for fear they might get hurt. There is no reason for them to have to take the big collision in sixth, seventh, eighth grade. They will have to take it at some point but lets wait until high school before they have to take that big hit from somebody and get dragged down to the ground."

Coach Alercio also stressed that the program is designed to not only teach the fundamentals but all the different positions to every player. "We aren't just teaching them plays, we are teaching them how to play the game… The goal is they leave here at the end of the season having a lot of fun and they learned something about all the different positions so as they grow and develop someday they will have a great idea of what position they will most likely play in high school and hopefully college."

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Coach Alercio and Coach Cassarino gather their players together at the end of the scrimmage to let them know what a great job they did.

Coach Cassarino agrees with Alercio and really wanted the kids to have an environment to learn the game without the fear of being tackled and hurt.

"This is a great opportunity to practice football with equipment… learn how to engage, how to block, how to attack blocks but not have to worry about being tackled.  They will get used to the contact and get used to some of the formations they might see at the high school level or college level and some of the terminology they hear announcers using," said coach Cassarino. "When they leave here I hope they know what certain positions are, that they have fun and get along well and ultimately they continue to play football and go to the next level."

Both coaches have seen padded flag football grow in popularity. There is a thriving program in Middlebury and Bethel and Fair Haven are two other towns that have started programs recently. They are currently in talks with them to try and arrange home and away games with each. Cassarino and Alercio decided to open the team up to sixth graders because they were generally playing flag football anyway and this was a great way to introduce them to the equipment. Although his son will be going into high school next year Cassarino is looking forward to continuing to coach the Green Knights and thinks that more youth programs might start to gravitate towards padded flag instead of tackle in the future.

"I hope to always be involved, I think its great for the game of football to get young kids involved. We purchased 35 sets of equipment that we want to use more than one year," laughs coach Cassarino.

"Once the word gets out how much fun it is without the worry of being tackled I think it will spread," he added.