Nitro ready to explode in Florida

The Niagara Youth Flag Football Nitro are ready to conquer America.

Seven travel teams from NYFF will be heading to Lakeland, Fla., Jan. 13-15 for the national championships in January, including under-10 and under-12 girls teams and under-7, under-10, under-11, under-12 and under-15 boys teams.

“The cool thing we are super excited about is that in every division there are 16 to 24 teams,” NYFF owner and coach Matt Hill said. “We are going to get a lot of good competition.”

He is confident the Nitro squads will do well against their American opponents.

“We have a couple of teams who are a little bit new but we have some really seasoned teams here who have played the best of the best. Our U11 boys, who I am fortunate enough to coach with, were at the NFL Flag Regionals this summer and we fell just short to a very strong Quebec team which goes down to the States all the time and does very well. Our girls team was down in Pennsylvania playing the best teams in America and we lost by a touchdown to the No. 1-ranked team.”

There is talent at all levels of the travel part of the organization.

“We have a pretty special under-7 team coached by Alex Sobaszek. They work hard and I can’t wait to see how they do,” Hill said. “They have injected a lot of life in our youngest age group. The focus is fun but we see a lot of talent at that age now so we are going to mix fun and competition.”

Tryouts were held for the majority of the teams. The under-15 boys team added a few new members to a squad that won a silver medal at the national championships.

“We are fine with being secondary to other sports but it is at the point now where kids have to come out and work for this,” he said. “When we did tryouts between the seven teams, we had more than 140 kids try out. It is time to start focusing in a little bit more on commitment.”

The teams practised hard in September and October, some teams took a break in November, and the training resumed in earnest in December. Training is held every Friday night at Youngs Sportsplex in Welland.

Hill is a big fan of the recently released Nitro nickname.

“The kids picked it and it’s great. We have some real cool jerseys that just came out today (last Friday). We also have our merchandise and all the parents are repping it.”

Between players and family, the Nitro entourage going to Florida will number about 80 people.

“The older I get the more this thing grows. If you would have told me five years ago I would have this many kids for my league I would be happy. We have this many kids for travel now,” Hill said. “The relationships you build with the families, players and coaches are amazing and it’s a brotherhood and sisterhood. At the end of the day it is bigger than football. We are mentoring young men and women and it’s very exciting to see that at the restaurants and hotels or going to the beach and doing all these fun things and activities together. There is a real family sense.”

Hill can’t wait for Florida.

“I know the competition is going to be really good and we are ready for it but that’s secondary. As a league owner, I am super proud of all these kids, coaches and parents for buying in to what we are doing,” he said. “There are not many teams from Canada that go to these things and I think we are going to surprise some people.”

Trent Dobson, a 15-year-old St. Catharines resident, is looking forward to the Florida adventure.

“It’s going to be a great experience. We just went to PEI and that was a lot of fun,” the Grade 10 student at Saint Francis said. “Now we are going to see even more competition in the States and I have never even been down there.”

He’s most excited about the football.

“It’s going to be great to see how good the kids in the States actually are. I think we have a good chance to go down there and have some good games.”

Dobson loves NYFF.

“Matty is a great guy and he runs a great program. I love playing with guys like my quarterback Noah (Walters) here. It is a lot of fun.”

Hill is looking to continue with the momentum of travel football.

“We want to structure it a little more and have more of the year planned. I would like to see us go to four to five tournaments a year if the interest is there. We are going to start to explore more seven-on-seven competitive stuff at the high school age,” he said. “Our under-15 team has some of the best players in the province and we want to continue to give them more exposure.”

Next up for NYFF is a winter skills camp that is sold out. The camp will play a key role in setting up the spring and fall leagues.

“As you know, when kids get out to the field, all they want to do is play games. I know they want games in spring and fall by some aren’t ready.” Hill said. “I will have my best coaches at the camp and they are great.”

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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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