By Sue Moore
An interesting thing happened on the way to success with Vicksburg’s Heads-up Rocket Football program the last few years. The program was firmly re-established by Kip Young and Josh Baird in 2013. Brian Johnson, an acknowledged football star in the Schoolcraft program in the 90s, and Jason Jones, the quarterback on one of Mendon’s better teams, are now contributing their knowledge to the Vicksburg Rocket program.
Johnson is the main man, according to Jones, who has taken on the role of player safety coach. Safety has increased in importance at all levels of play but particularly when kids are just starting out to learn the game. A unique feature in the program is great cooperation with Tom Marchese, the high school head football coach. He took his squad to the district finals last fall. Many of his best players came up through the Rocket program in Vicksburg and formed a core unit that had a great season in 2015. The players throughout all levels of the program are learning some of the high school’s basic plays and adapting them to each particular age level.
Today the future football stars of Vicksburg’s program are being asked to sign up online for the first time. They can go to vicksburgrocketfootball.com now until June 30. Previously sign-up has been accomplished at the “Football Night in Vicksburg” the first Saturday in August. This new way of registration hopes to get kids back into the idea of football over the summer, said Valerie Tassell, the secretary of the organization. “This should also make it less hectic on football night for the kids and parents. We used to have sign-up at the Lions Club Summer Festival the end of July but we expect it to all be online for 2016.”
Flag football is for ages 5 through 10 years. Heads Up teams include grades three through six. Last year there were 225 young people in the program with six flag teams, two for third and fourth grade and three teams composed of fifth and sixth grade youngsters. The season begins the first Saturday after Labor Day and goes seven weeks with each team getting one bye week. “The secret to success is the consistency throughout the program. The goal is continuity from Rocket to middle school to high school,” Johnson said. “We get great cooperation from all the coaches, right up to Marchese himself.”
“The most important thing is to teach proper technique. Tackle properly and injuries will be significantly lower,” Jones said. “The kids learn basic terminology and hole assignments. We make sure the players are well conditioned with two weeks of this in early August. We urge lots of water and Gatorade and no sugar at practices.”
Since Jones came from the Jon Swartz teams in Mendon, he loves to quote one of the most successful football coaches in the state of Michigan. “He used to tell us, ‘it’s never the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the heart in the dog’,” Jones said.