John Layton had no idea when he started Peabody Youth Football how quickly the grade-based program would grow.
He held the first football clinic at Peabody High last Saturday, and 139 youngsters showed up for the day of non-contact drills and instruction from a former New England Patriots star and four top notch Boston College players. One of the biggest highlights of the day was seeing former Patriots wide receiver David Givens, who brought his two Super Bowl rings for everybody to see.
The Eagle players included just-graduated wide receiver Rich Gunnell, who was drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs this year along with starters Montel Harris (tailback), Wes Davis (safety) and offensive tackle Anthony Castonzo, who is 6-foot-7 and 305 pounds and is projected to be taken in the first round at next year's NFLdraft.
"The BC guys were unbelievable with the kids, and of course Givens was a big hit," said Layton, who played football at Northeastern. "Peabody High head coach Scott Wlasuk brought 20 of his high school players down and they worked with the kids the whole day. Coach Jim O'Leary from St. John's Prep was there and David Bavaro (a former Patriot who grew up in Danvers) gave a speech. It was just a great day."
Layton opened the clinic up to other teams in the Northeast Youth Football Conference, and youngsters ranging from 1st to 8th grade participated.
The brand new Peabody Raiders program has 237 players and 105 cheerleaders signed up, with practices beginning Aug. 2. Home games will be played at Bishop Fenwick High School, with practice sites at Roosevelt Park and behind the McCarthy School. There will be two teams at each level: 1st-2nd graders, 3rd-4th, 5th-6th and 7th-8th.
Layton, who coached for many years in Peabody Pop Warner, started thinking about starting a new league last summer after talking to Wlasuk during the Peabody West Williamsport team's long journey to the World Series (their sons, J.J. Layton and Cody Wlasuk were on the team).