By Matt Jenkins
---- — A team of eighth grade football players from Massachusetts will compete for a national title this weekend in San Antonio, Texas, and Danvers’ own Matt Andreas is a big reason why.
Andreas is the only local athlete on the 35-player Massachusetts team that will battle North Georgia on Friday (6:40 p.m.) in a semifinal at Heroes Stadium. Colorado and St. Louis will meet in the other semifinal with the two winners playing at the Alamodome on Sunday for the Football University National Championship.
Team Massachusetts won four games to advance to the Final Four, defeating New Hampshire and Connecticut North close to home, then traveling to Mansfield, Ohio to beat Connecticut South and Maryland. Massachusetts rolled the team from Maryland, 34-7, making it two straight years that Team Massachusetts advanced to the semifinals.
Andreas is a versatile player that Team Massachusetts coach Andrew Nashawaty has been able to use in various roles.
“He can do anything. He can play quarterback, running back, receiver, defensive back ... he pretty much does it all for us,” Nashawaty said. “He’s a tremendous player. I saw Matt work out and thought he was impressive at the tryout, and then I saw the highlight film that he sent and I was blown away. He’s one of the best players on the team.”
The selection process for Team Massachusetts was rigorous and being part of the team takes a huge commitment.
Tryouts began in July with more than 185 players competing for spots on the team. Many other players were evaluated through film, and coaches actually scouted the players during live youth football games in their town.
Andreas found out in late October that he had been selected, and practices began right after Thanksgiving.
“It’s just an honor to be selected,” Andreas, 13, said. “The players are so good and the coaching is so wonderful. It’s amazing to go from Pop Warner and the CAL (Cape Ann League) Youth League to compete at this level with these players. It’s so great.”
Practices were held approximately four times a week at Westwood High School, which meant players had to be committed to the team and they needed the support of their families.
“I’m lucky to have parents that will drive me all over the place,” the 5-foot-11, 155-pound Andreas said.
It didn’t take Andreas long to find his niche with this team. His versatility and athleticism actually made it easier for the coaches to include multiple formations and offensive packages.
“It’s incredibly important to have a player like that and so necessary on all-star teams,” Nashawaty said. “We had an injury at tight end and he went to tight end, not because he’s a great tight end on his own or that he’s played the position before, but because he’s a football player. He can play any position. We asked him to play tight end in the third and fourth round and he made incredible catches and blocks. He’s a great football player.”
Andreas had no problem moving to tight end because his focus is to do whatever the coaches need. Playing a position that requires making catches is also a natural fit for Andreas, who has grown up catching passes from his brother, Nick.
Nick Andreas was the starting quarterback for Danvers High this season, and Matt believes practicing with his older brother has been a huge boost for his development.
“I think that’s one of the main reasons because he has a cannon,” Matt Andreas said. “That’s how I feel I’ve gotten my hands to be able to catch.”
Matt is looking forward to the day when he can play on the same high school team as his brother, but for the moment he’s very focused on trying to bring a national title home.
Team Massachusetts is intent on winning the title and earning some respect for the level of football played in the Commonwealth.
“That is our rallying cry. Last year when Massachusetts advanced to the Final Four in the eight grade division it was Massachusetts, Texas, Florida, and Oregon,” said Nashawaty, a Marshfield resident who coaches in his town’s youth league. “Massachusetts played Texas and lost, 12-7. We’re out to prove Massachusetts has good football players, and to be quite honest we’re very underrated as a state. We’re going to win the National Championship this year; I have that feeling. We can help put Massachusetts on the map as a football state.”
Andreas knows the talent level that Team Massachusetts will be up against will be the highest they’ve seen so far. But he also knows this team is headed to Texas with the right attitude.
“I feel like everybody is one team and everybody is trying to do what they can for this team,” Andreas said. “No one is trying to be a single superstar here.”