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Willoughby Bigs 10U youth flag football team qualifies for national tournament in Las Vegas

Nov. 19—A group of boys who decided to play football together just for fun in kindergarten are now headed to one of the most entertaining cities in America to see if they are good enough to earn the title of national champions.

The Willoughby Bigs 10U football team took the championship at the NFL Cleveland Browns Flag Regionals tournament in Canton to qualify for the NFL Flag Nationals tournament in Las Vegas on Pro Bowl Weekend Feb. 3 and 4.

The tournament will actually take place at Heritage Park in Henderson, Nevada, which is about 17 miles from the Las Vegas strip, but it still could prove to be the experience of a lifetime.

“We were ecstatic (to win). It really is an honor and an amazing opportunity. None of the kids have been to Las Vegas before,” Coach Matt Osolin said. “They’re all thrilled for the opportunity to play for a National Championship and have the opportunity to attend such a star-studded event.”

Jack Kadlub, Anthony Keidel, Dylan Osolin, Jackson Davis, Merrik Zavodny, Noah Bizjak, Timmy Dunn and Tyler Demand brought home the trophy for their age division by sweeping the tournament with five straight victories, never giving up more than one TD in three of the five games with two shutouts while averaging 27 points on offense.

The players are all born and raised in Willoughby and have been playing together since kindergarten. Osolin said the boys on the team are all 11, but the qualifications for the 10U division was to be born in 2011.

The team has come a long way from kindergarten, and it has nothing to do with the distance from Willoughby to Las Vegas.

“When I decided to coach my son in flag football, I told Dylan to get all of his friends at Grant Elementary to join the team. The thought was these are kids you may play ball with through high school, so let’s start building chemistry now,” Osolin said. “Being honest, we really struggled for the first year or two. In spite of these struggles we decided that keeping the kids together was more important than winning.

“Eventually, they started to figure it out,” he added. “The boys changed. As we became successful, we realized that our ‘best kid’ on our team was a different kid every year. That’s what brought us success. We’re balanced. All the boys know each others skills, trust each other and love playing together. That was the key to our success.”

The boys experienced success playing indoors at the Lost Nation Sports Park, but won the regional outdoor, so Osolin is confident there won’t be any issues dealing with the desert conditions in Nevada.

“Leading up to this year, our team has consistently played spring, summer and winter seasons,” Osolin said.. “So, we’re well acclimated to various climates. The boys love to play, regardless of the weather conditions. I don’t foresee any issues in regards to weather.”

As far as expectations go, this isn’t purely a pleasure trip to a warm-weather paradise in February. The Willoughby Bigs have worked hard and are ready to show the best in the nation they can compete.

“We had a good deal of success in the NEO Flag Football League, but we weren’t sure what to expect in expanding beyond that. The parents and coaches felt somewhat confident that we’d fair pretty well amongst the other teams. The level of dominance that this team showed was a welcoming surprise,” Osolin said.

“We’ve gotten better every day since our first practice in kindergarten. The boys are close knit, hardworking and extremely competitive. Their ceiling is limitless. I like our chances in Vegas.”

Taking the team to Las Vegas for four days presents a financial challenge for the families and coaches are reaching out for some sponsors to help offset the cost of the trip.

Anyone wishing to sponsor the team can contact Coach Matthew Osolin at 440-487-5562, mosolin@ohioliving.org. Venmo: @evolutionkitchen.

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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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