Local sixth-graders finish exciting year

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By Tom Quinn, Contributing Writer

(l-r) Joshua Antonio, Jack Carlstrom, Kealan Green, Justin Toon Photo/Tom Quinn
(l-r) Joshua Antonio, Jack Carlstrom, Kealan Green, Justin Toon
Photo/Tom Quinn

Shrewsbury – Football season is wrapping up in Massachusetts, but as most sixth-graders head into the offseason, a group of talented young players are representing the state in the only national tournament for the grade level. With a large group of players from Middlesex, including four from Shrewsbury, the region has a lot to be proud of as the team advances in the tournament.

The Football University (FBU) national tournament features teams from across the 50 states competing for a chance to prove their worth on the football field. Massachusetts’ sixth-grade team was knocked out in the second round last year, but this year’s squad has already won two games, and they are confident in their abilities, even though this is the first time they’ve competed in a national tournament.

“This is unique in that there are no sixth-grade national tournaments except this one,” Assistant Coach Tom Porrell said. “If you want to play against other states at a sixth-grade level you have to come here.”

The players on the team had to meet a high standard to make it onto the roster. Porrell and the other coaches scouted around 200 players from across the state, with central Massachusetts contributing the most players. That means many of the players have competed against each other, but, according to the group from Shrewsbury, that doesn’t cause any problems with team chemistry.

“Even though we’re rivals we act like we’re all friends, even though we haven’t been playing together long,” said Kealan Green, a linebacker and receiver from Sherwood Middle School in Shrewsbury.

Green, along with Sherwood teammates Josh Antonio (fullback and nose tackle), Jack Carlstrom (guard and defensive end) and Justin Toon (tailback and running back) represent Shrewsbury’s contribution to the team. All four were excited for the tournament, but also mentioned the coaching they were receiving and how it would figure into Sherwood’s success next year.

“I have trouble running low, so they’re teaching me how to run harder and lower,” Antonio said.

Toon, whose father Marlon is an assistant coach on the team, mentioned the adjustment players have to make when going from one rule set to another (FBU uses “federation rules”).

“You can’t jump back onside [as a defensive player], so our coach teaches us to do hard motions to get the defense to jump,” he said.

Carlstrom, who is the only blocker from Shrewsbury, said his technical skills have improved due to the coaching on the FBU team.

“Coach Porrell taught us about how to step, how to stay in front of people,” he said. “It’s a lot of technique.”

The large Middlesex contingent to the FBU team might not have happened if the region didn’t take its football so seriously. Scouting sixth-graders is tough, and Porrell said it’s a good thing that the Shrewsbury kids had their games documented on film.

“Most of the team is from central Massachusetts because I’ve seen them,” Porrell said. “I was contacted by a number of parents from other leagues, but they couldn’t show me film.”

The coaching and recruiting has paid off, as the squad shut out New Hampshire in a round one win and recently beat Rhode Island 52 – 8. Porrell wasn’t willing to make a prediction about how far the team will go, but they’re off to a good start.

“The competition gets very, very intense,” he said. “There’s a lot of speed in this tournament, so if you don’t have speed you’re not going to do very well.”

The team’s season ended Dec. 13 when they lost a close game to Connecticut, 28-24.