Going to nationals has become a yearly ritual for North Shore Flag Football League coach Jonathan Rivera and his assistant, Danny Batista.
The pair, who have been friends since childhood and always coach together, have taken all-star teams to the nationals three years in a row and came very close to winning it all recently.
“The first time we didn’t win a game; last year we won one,” said Rivera. “This year we went all the way to the championship game. We knew this was a special team, with kids from a lot of different cities and towns.”
The 11- and 12-year-old NSFFL Patriots won the New York Jets Regional last December to earn a berth at the nationals in Dallas, Texas. Team members included Ryan Barror of Beverly; Cameron Loizides, Jared Ridley and Johnny Ranieri of Peabody; Mathieu Severance of Lynn; Jake Willcox and Gabriel DeSouza of Everett and Mike Sainstrill of Malden.
“They were all very good players and we had a great quarterback in Jake Willcox, who also plays for Everett Pop Warner. With him throwing the ball we knew we had a very good chance to go far,” said Rivera. “At nationals the kids have to call their own plays; coaches can’t do it. Willcox was our offensive leader and called great plays.”
The two captains, Loizides and Severance, were on last year’s team and were able to tell their teammates what was in store for them at AT&T Stadium in Dallas.
“It’s an amazing place,” said Rivera. “They put the kids through the tunnel like the NFL teams, and they came out in the end zone. They have that huge screen showing fans what’s going on, and for the first seven minutes of our first game the boys were just happy to be there. Then they started to focus and play our game.