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