SAN MATEO, Calif. (KTVU) - Tackle football enjoys massive popularity, but suffers from massive pitfalls.
The answer – at the youth level – flag football.
Serra High School coach Patrick Walsh founded the “Next Level” league in 2012. Talk about your “Super Bowl-sized” success story.
“It’s been an incredible ride,” said Walsh.
Four years ago we started here with about 400 kids at Serra. Now we have 15 total sites, 12 in the Bay Area, it’s kind of humbling to know how many kids are playing flag football out there under the next level guidance.”
Walsh’s mission is not to replace traditional tackle football, but to offer an option.
“I coach at Serra HS, I played Pop Warner, I believe in contact football obviously, that’s why we don’t run in the fall. We’re not here to compete with contact youth sports which generally happen in the fall. This is a good alternative for people who maybe want to wait a little bit to play contact football or not at all.”
Next level didn’t invent the concept of contact-free football. But they have taken it to the – well, next level. Every team from every league is coached by an actual player from that particular high school.
“I had the Serra high school kids come in and help, and that’s where I saw the magic happen,” said Walsh. “Those kids really look up to high school student-athletes. And so the following years I thought maybe we can start a league and see how it goes.
Serra football player Devin Simmons has embraced the experience.
“It’s cool, they look up to us, try to learn from us, and even try to help us out. Some of them try to do their own thing, but for the most part they like to learn and they try to apply what we’re teaching them.”
They teaching it now, but the way the game is growing, Walsh adds, high schoolers might one day be playing it.
“I think it’s only a matter of time – 5, 10 years – where it’s a fully sanctioned high school sport. There’s so many kids playing at young ages now, there’s huge summer tournaments.
College recruiters are looking at it at the high school level. You can play football in the non-contact environment. Really the sky is the limit, we just want as many kids as possible playing this great game.”