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Flag football clinic prepares kids for Upper Township league | Local Sports - FlagSpin

Flag football clinic prepares kids for Upper Township league | Local Sports

UPPER TOWNSHIP — It was a fun-filled and enthusiastic Saturday.

In preparation for the upcoming Jersey Shore NFL Flag Spring League, 50-plus boys and girls ages 5-14 attended the Flag Football Skills & Drills Clinic at the Trinity United Methodist Church fields. The league’s first year will run each Saturday from April 2 through May 22.

Under spring-like temperatures and sunny skies, Giovanni Archundia, 10, Johnny Bruno, 9, and Raymond Rogers II, 9, were among the many young athletes who came out to work on flag football drills, rules and fundamentals.

All three signed up to participate in the new league. It was a free NFL-affiliated clinic, and flag football is a noncontact sport.

“He is really looking forward to it this year,” said Bruno’s father, John, adding Johnny has been playing different styles of football for the last three years, including arena football at the Wildwoods Convention Center.  

Last year, the younger Bruno signed up to play in a flag football league in Ocean City, but something happened with the league and he was not able to compete, his father said. The Brunos live in Wildwood.

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The Jersey Shore NFL Flag Spring League is expected to have over 100 players.

The drills Saturday were practice for the league and, organizers hoped, exposure to the game for those who came out but have yet to sign up for the league.

“So, he is really looking forward to it this year,” the elder Bruno said. “He loves all the sports. He loves every one of them. … I think it’s great for him. Anything that keeps them active and interested and gives them some autonomy for them to learn their own skills, I’m all for it.”

Jacquelyn Tocci and her son, Jaden Tocci-Rogers, formed American Football United in January 2021 after Youth GridIron Academy in Ocean City sold its business and moved away. Without any NFL FLAG leagues in the area, the mother and son decided to create their own.

American Football United hosted camps last summer in Sea Isle City, Ventnor and Stone Harbor. NFL FLAG is the official flag football program of the NFL.

“It’s cool to help out around the community,” said Tocci-Rogers, who is a 2020 Ocean City High School graduate and played football for the Red Raiders. “And I love football. I love teaching everyone. It’s just a fun thing for me to do, and it helps me give back.”

Tocci and Tocci-Rogers loved the turnout, and hope more register for the league before it begins in two weeks. They have helped organize leagues since 2017 but never in Upper Township, where they are both from. 

“So many of my friends have kids here who will be doing this league, and we know a lot of the families from growing up here,” Tocci said. “It’s really, really exciting to be able to just come and reconnect.”

Raymond Rogers, one of the participants, is Tocci-Rogers’ stepbrother. There were about six siblings there, said Rogers’ mother, Tameka McKeiver. This is Raymond’s first year playing flag football, and he is very excited.

“Everyone is happy,” said McKeiver, of Absecon. “It’s good to get out and play. It’s wonderful to see all these kids out here and learning skills.”

When the league starts, Tocci hopes to at least have 10 teams. The maximum number of players per team is 10, and the minimum is seven. The teams (ages 8-10 and 11-14) are required to have certified football officials for liability issues, so there will be four New Jersey Interscholastic Athletic Association officials at the games. Two each will handle the noon and 1 p.m. games. 

One is longtime official Leon Daniels. 

“I enjoy it,” said Daniels, who officiates football year-round, including many high-profile high games in the fall, men’s leagues and flag football and indoor football leagues. “It’s part of giving back. I played in high school, and I enjoy the game.

“It looks promising. This is the feeder program for high school. So, during youth league and youth flag, it translates into high school when they put the pads on. Then you see the stars in high school almost 5-10 years prior to going to high school. I enjoy it.”

With the absence of an NFL FLAG league last season, parents were eager to get their kids back into action. The Jersey Shore NFL Flag Spring League will be unlike a lot of other flag football programs because it’s affiliated with NFL Play 60, a program that encourages activities that promote good health and fun, Tocci said.

This is the fifth year 10-year-old Archundia has played flag football. Archundia had played with Youth GridIron, but without it last year, he played in a league in North Jersey, but that “was a disaster,” his mother, Lauren Hartzell, said. 

Archundia wanted to compete in a game Saturday, so he is eager for the league to start. The family is from Mays Landing.

“I am super happy we were able to find something this year,” Hartzell said. “It was really difficult in the fall. … (Giovanni) is so excited. He is so excited. He was devastated in the fall because he couldn’t play. He is pumped.”

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Travis Burnett

Travis Burnett

A pioneer in the flag football community, Travis helped co-found the Flag Football World Championship Tour, FlagSpin and USA Flag. Featuring 15+ years of content creation for the sport of flag football, creating and managing the largest flag football tournaments on the planet, coaching experience at the youth and adult level as well as an active player with National and World Championship level experience.

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