By John Swinconeck, Contributing Writer
Marlborough ??” Two eighth graders from Marlborough will get a shot at national prestige with their Grade 8 American Youth Football team, the Nashoba Chiefs, which are competing for the AYF title starting Dec. 7.
Billy Soto, 13, is a student at Marlborough Middle School, a linebacker and fullback, who started playing football when he was 5-years-old. Charlie Michaelides, 13, a defensive lineman and student at Immaculate Conception, has been playing since fourth grade. The two have played together for years. They say they have a tight bond and that they watch each other's back on the field.
Both joined the Nashoba team because they said it was their best chance to play serious, competitive football. Immaculate doesn’t have a football program. There is football offered at Marlborough Middle School, but there are no special teams and no championship competition.
“They’re Marlborough through and through, and would have played there if there was a team for them,” said William Soto, Billy's father, who has coached locally and also played on the semi-professional level. “Marlborough taught them how to play the game, formed them into players and who they are.”
The boys said playing for Nashoba was intimidating at first, but now the team feels like “family,” Michaelides added.
“Both guys earned starting positions,” William said. “That's pretty outstanding.”
What they didn’t anticipate when they joined Nashoba was a post-season that would see them travel to Kissimmee, Fla., for the chance to a win the AYF National Championship. To get there, Nashoba defeated Nipmuc Regional High School to win their local Super Bowl before besting Needham to win states. Regional wins against Providence North End of Rhode Island and Bridgeport, Conn. assured Nashoba of its first trip to nationals.
“I thought we’d go far, but not this far,” Charlie said. “It's really exciting.”
The boys were frank as far as why they enjoy the sport: “I like that you can hit people and have it be legal,” Billy said.
“That's the defensive player talking,” the elder Soto chimed in.
Both said they were aware of the danger of injures inherent in the game, and Charlie said he's already suffered one concussion. They are both aware of recent reports of head injuries that have played many NFL players. The boys said they try to stay aware and alert at all times when they’re on the field to prevent injuries.
The two said they hope to continue to play in high school and in college, but said they were serious about academics. “Education comes first,” said Charlie.
The two will miss a week of school and will try to keep up with their classwork while in Kissimmee.
And then there's the pressure of trying to win a national championship. “It's going to be hard for them,” said William.
“At least it's not six degrees where your water freezes on the sidelines,” said Billy, referring to the Floridian weather.
The Chiefs are attempting to defray the cost of travel, lodging, food, and registration fees. The Chiefs estimate the trip will cost up to $1,200 per player, but William said this may be a once-in-a-lifetime chance at a national title for many of the 20 players who are going.
“This is quite something,” William said. “The worst they end up with is being fifth-best in the country in AYF.”
Donations can be made at the Nashoba Chiefs website at nashobayfc.com. Checks made payable to NYFC can be mailed to PO Box 432, Bolton, MA 01740. For more information, contact William Soto directly at (774) 258-1334.