By Sue Moore
It’s a record-breaking year for the Vicksburg Rocket Football program with 304 registered players across all divisions. “The program directors, Brian Johnson and Nick Sertic, have done an amazing job staying ahead of the ball and keeping things organized; an absolute must for this many players,” said Valerie Tassell, secretary of the organization.
The program includes the largest flag group ever in Vicksburg Rocket football program, with 212 players, according to Sertic, the coach in charge of this division. It includes ages 5-6, 7-8 and 9-11 contending in separate sudivisions. Sertic decided to expand it one more year to include 11 year olds. “This gives many options in grooming youngsters for tackle football play. Fun and love of the game can be there, but without tackle gear,” he said.
Each flag division has 8 teams with 8-9 players per team, a total of 24 flag teams. Flag teams play at Bulldog Stadium Saturday mornings starting September 9, with games starting at 8, 9:05, 10:10 and 11:15 a.m. Each age division plays other teams within their division. The division is co-ed with girls playing alongside the boys. This flag program is somewhat unique to this area as these flag players are never “aged out” into the Heads Up program.
“Kids learn terminology, the positions and basic plays in preparation for tackle,” Sertic said. Some of the 24 coaches “used to be a tackle coach. As we integrate them in flag football, it brings their experience of the game to the kids. The ultimate goal is for the kids to have fun,” he said. “Some may never play tackle. But developing the love of the game and beginning early will help develop a strong base for football in Vicksburg for many years to come. I am proud to bring my detail work and organizing skills to make this the best and well known flag competition in the area.”
All Heads Up coaches in the program complete a rigorous series of training videos and must prove competence in each area to become certified, according to Brian Johnson, chief of the tackle program and overall organizer of the Rocket program.
Training includes heat acclimation, concussion awareness, and heads up blocking and tackling with the focus on safety. Josh Baird connected the program to USA Football four years ago. Rob Moughton brought NFL Flag into the program three years ago. “They set the groundwork and we have just continued to develop the program for our youth,” Johnson pointed out.
The Heads Up program has two divisions: 3rd/4th graders and 5th/6th graders. There are two teams in the 3rd/4th grade group with 21 players per team and two teams in the 5th/6th grade group with 25 players per team for a total of 92 players. There are four volunteer head coaches and up to four volunteer assistant coaches per team. Heads Up teams play Saturday games against other towns and cities in the Kalamazoo Valley Rocket Football League starting September 9. Other teams in the league are Three Rivers, Plainwell, Paw Paw, Gull Lake, Allegan, Kalamazoo Christian/Hackett, Comstock and Otsego.