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).
"Scott encouraged me to start the program," said Layton. "He's a great coach and I wanted to help him bring back Peabody pride. Bishop Fenwick (football) coach Dave Woods has also been a big supporter and helped us out by letting us use their field for practically nothing. His players are going to work with our kids, too.
"It wasn't easy to get this off the ground because we had to come up with $65,000 to buy brand new equipment, get insurance and pay the fee to join the Northeast Youth Football Conference. It's a lot of work, and we had to become a 501 C nonprofit organization. To be honest, I thought we'd just have one team at each level, not two."
Layton will coach one 7th - 8th grade team while longtime Peabody football booster John May handles the other. Layton's younger son Tyler is on one of the 5th-6th grade teams.
"I refuse to coach my own kids," said Layton. "I'm fortunate to have great people around me helping out. My vice president is Jacqui Pence, and Laurel Mullen is our head cheerleader coach.
"We'll play teams from Swampscott, Beverly, Salem, Saugus, Stoneham, Charlestown and Lynn. Everybody is very enthusiastic and we can't wait to get going."
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The first annual Silvio Cella Family Foundation Golf Tournament to benefit high school football programs in need across the state will be held Monday, Aug.2 at Ferncroft Country Club in Middleton. Registration is at 12:30 p.m. and tee time at 1:30. For more information go to www.silviocellafoundation.org.
Cella, who passed away in April, was a legend in Revere where he coached the high school team for 28 years, won five Greater Boston League championships and took the Patriots to the Super Bowl in 1973. He won over 100 games and is the winningest football coach in school history. He also served as Revere High athletic director for many years. Cella was inducted into the Massachusetts High School Coaches Hall of Fame and National Football Federation Hall of Fame.
Cella's son Mike, a former Peabody High assistant coach, has been a Peabody resident for many years. The Cella Family Foundation will carry on Silvio's legacy and at the same time offer help to football programs by providing the tools to be successful on the field and in life.
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Jean DePlacido is a part-time writer and columnist for The Salem News. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.