In the Metroplex Youth Football League, the Cleburne Yellow Jackets are set to face off against Aledo on Saturday in Mansfield for the bantam super bowl championship.
The COVID-19 pandemic sidelined several traditional members of the Brazos Valley Football Association for this season, leading to a joint venture with the North Central Texas Pee-Wee Football Association to form the Metroplex Youth Football League, where 83 youth football teams competed from Aug. 29, culminating with each age division’s super bowl this weekend at R.L. Anderson Stadium in Mansfield.
And a group of first and second graders from Cleburne have battled their way to the championship showdown.
The junior Jackets went 7-1 in the regular season. After a week 1 bye to open the playoffs, Cleburne’s bantam team beat Aledo 1, 26-14, and then the Jackets beat White Settlement, 16-0, last week to earn a spot in the championship.
Greg Simpson, Cleburne bantam’s head coach, said what makes this team special is how unselfish and coachable they are.
“We don’t have anybody on our team who is about themselves,” Simpson said. “All of these boys are eager to learn. That comes down to their parents being very committed to the team and getting their kids to practice. These kids are special. We’re probably one of the smallest teams in the league. We don’t have the most experience but these boys are eager to learn and very coachable.”
Simpson said this group is also very tight-knit and that he’s proud of how far the kids have come over the past couple months.
“All year, until we got to the playoffs, we never spoke of championships,” Simpson said. “We just taught our boys to work hard, be selfish and to do things for your brother beside you. That’s all we’ve done. We talk to them before practices and tell them we’re here for a reason and that we’re a family and we take care of our family. These boys really bought into that.
“Our work ethic and our principles on being unselfish got us to where we are now. Football is a huge life lesson. You fall down, you get back up. These boys keep fighting, no matter what.”
Cleburne’s lone loss this year came against the very team they will face for the championship on Saturday in Aledo 2. In the teams’ first meeting on Sept. 19, Aledo 2 won a hard-fought game by a score of 14-8.
Simpson said he likes his team’s chance at not only winning a championship, but getting some redemption for that lone loss.
“First off, I feel like we’re a completely different team than what we were at that time,” Simpson said. “We’ve definitely improved on our offense and on the defensive side. And really it’s some coaching adjustments. That last game [vs. Aledo 2], I put that on me as far as coaching. I didn’t make some adjustments I should’ve made and I learned from that.
“They’re a very respected team. A good team and well-coached. I think it’s definitely going to be a close one. I feel confident in our boys and coaching staff to feel like we can come out with the victory on this one.”
In addition to wins of 16-0 over White Settlement and 26-14 over Aledo 1 in the playoffs, Cleburne was dominant in the regular season. In eight regular-season games, Cleburne had five shutouts and won six of its seven games via a 30-point mercy rule.
Simpson said the Jackets’ greatest team strength is their speed.
“The main thing with our team is we definitely have some speed,” he said. “We don’t just have one or two kids who have speed on them. We have several kids who can be gone when they hit the corner. I think our speed is our strength.”
In addition to the six shutouts on the season, Cleburne has allowed only 4.8 points per game. Simpson said what makes their defense great is how it’s truly a team effort on that side of the ball.
“All 11 men to the football, that’s something I’m real big on,” he said. “Every man to the football, period. Those times we did get scored on, we were in prime position, it was just missed tackles. We’ve played against some good backs. That Aledo team we’re about to play has good running backs. That’s our main thing is all 11 to the football. We swarm. Yellowjackets swarm and that’s what we preach.”
While Simpson said he believes his team is much improved since their first meeting against Aledo 2, the one thing they learned after that first meeting was playing without hesitation.
“They’re very well coached on both sides of the ball,” Simpson said. “Defensively, they’re very tough. They’ve got great defensive ends and linebackers who pursue the football. With us, it’s doing what they’re taught to do. We’ve got to run. We can’t hesitate when we get the football. We had a lot of plays that last time we played where we weren’t running full speed. But we’re a different team now than we were then. We’ve learned a lot since that game.”
The Cleburne bantam team is comprised of: Levi Thrasher, Mitchell Gentry, Braxton Simpson, Braxton McCullough, Caeson Brown, Maddox Spohn, Ezekiel Kinere, Aryonn Hibbler, Enrique Martinez, Kadrien Simpson, Dimari Fuller, Brody Hulsey, Logan Ramirez, Waylon Rogers, Derrick Chargois, Christopher Zamarripa, Zander Allen, Cassius Lewis, Colton McFadden, Gunner Argo, Kooper Sisk, Brantley Wallace, Cole Cox and Bannock Orr.
The bantam super bowl between Cleburne and Aledo 2 is scheduled for 10 a.m. Saturday at R.L. Anderson Stadium in Mansfield.
Cleburne youth football had six teams total make the playoffs.
In the flag league, Cleburne lost to Aledo, 22-20, in week 2 of the playoffs after they beat Decatur, 24-20, in week 1 of postseason play.
Cleburne’s third-grade team had a week 1 playoff bye before losing to Aledo, 6-0, in week 2.
Cleburne’s fourth-, fifth- and sixth-grade teams each lost in week 1 of the playoffs.
Last year, Cleburne had a team lose to Burleson, 20-14, in overtime of the BVFA super bowl.