By DANNY P. SMITH
It's not all just about blocking and tackling for the children who participate in the Northeast Youth Football Association.
The coaches and officials who are in charge of managing the 10-team league know they have a tremendous responsibility beyond what happens on the field.
As the players under their care continue to grow, it's the life lessons learned that can make all of the difference.
"They might not be the next Michael Vick," said NYFA director Jeff Akins. "They might be the next doctor, lawyer or someone who finds a cure for cancer or something."
Following the death of former director Andre Williams, Akins has been trying to carry on the vision.
It was Williams who established a league, now in its eighth year of existence, that keeps the best interest of the players at heart.
"Coach Tony Akins with the Starkville Cowboys has a walk-in policy with the schools where he checks in with not only his Cowboys, but also the Starkville Raiders and Starkville Saints," Jeff Akins said. "It's not just about one team, but all of the teams in general."
That plans seems to be working as the league continues to grow. Two more teams (Grenada and the Starkville Saints) were added in the offseason and up to 100 children participating in the three different age groups (7-8, 9-10 and 11-12).
Jeff Akins was excited when Fred Tate approached him about starting the Saints.
"I know what kind of guy (Tate) is," Akins said. "He cares about the kids and is going to put 100 percent into it. He was just the right person, at the right time and the right atmosphere.
"Also, Leonardo Thompson is the president of their team. Leonardo is the principal at West Oktibbeha so the right type of people are getting involved with these kids."
Not only does the league contain three Starkville teams with the Cowboys, Saints and Raiders, it has squads from other locations with the Macon Broncos, Louisville Chiefs, Columbus Ravens, Ackerman Steelers, Eupora Patriots, Kosciusko Cardinals and Grenada Cowboys.
Akins is committed to building the league bigger and better. He encourages other teams from the local area to join in on the fun. Games are held at local high schools each Saturday morning and last about an hour.
One particular game involving the Starkville Cowboys at Starkville's Westside Park, now known as J.L. King Memorial Park, was called a success.
The second week of games of this season was held on Saturday. Ackerman swept Eupora with a 13-12 victory in the 7-8 age division, a 20-0 win in the 9-10 division and a 20-0 shutout in the 11-12 division. The Starkville Raiders won over the Macon Broncos 12-6 in the 7-8 division and 14-8 in the 9-10 division, but the Broncos won 16-6 in the 11-12 division. Grenada won all three games against Kosciusko with scores of 18-12 (overtime) in the 7-8 division, 21-0 in the 9-10 division and 24-6 in the 11-12 division. The Starkville Cowboys defeated Louisville three times with a 20-0 shutout in the 7-8 division, 30-27 in the 9-10 division, and 31-2 in the 11-12 division. The Starkville Saints defeated Columbus 13-6 in the 7-8 division and 18-13 in the 9-10 division, but lost a 19-8 decision in the 11-12 division.
In week one, Louisville defeated Ackerman 6-0 in the 7-8 division, 21-0 in the 9-10 division and 18-0 in the 11-12 division. Columbus beat Grenada 20-0 in the 7-8 division, then Grenada turned the tables by winning 18-6 in the 9-10 division and 27-0 in the 11-12 division. Macon swept the Starkville Saints 21-6 in the 7-8 division, 25-0 in the 9-10 division, and 21-0 in the 11-12 division. The Starkville Raiders shut out the Starkville Cowboys 12-0 in the 7-8 division, but the Cowboys came back to take 13-12 and 27-12 decisions in the 9-10 and 11-12 divisions, respectively.
"The games are going real good right now," Jeff Akins said. "We just started, but we're getting tremendous support from parents and fans. We're looking for continued support from local businesses and local sponsors. We can use anyone who wants to help sponsor a team. We're in need of sponsorships and when it comes to registration, fundraising and different things of that nature."
The NYFA will have a website up later on this year at nyfa.com and the league is promoted on WCBI's End Zone on Friday night during high school football coverage.
The motto of the league is, "we are NYFA."
Even though local high schools are involved Akins would like for that support to be increased in all areas.
"One day, these are going to be their future athletes so we're just trying to groom them and get them ready for the next stage which is junior high, then high school and on and on," Akins said.
Teams practice during throughout the week at the Starkville Sportsplex and Akins appreciates the Starkville Park and Recreation Department for making the grounds available.
"We thank Matthew Rye, Lisa Cox, Sammy Willcutt and all of the people down there for their help and providing these kids somewhere to practice," Akins said. "The Starkville Saints play out of Maben and West Oktibbeha High School so it's hard for the parents to get off work, go down there and get them to practice. Sometimes we have to pay a fee because we have to practice under the lights, but that's fine. We're able to practice for an hour to hour and a half.
"We're trying to show the city and park and rec that we are an up and coming league. We're doing the right thing and we just need the continued support."
The Eupora Patriots won the 7-8 year old division last year, while the Starkville Raiders won the 9-10 year old division, and the Columbus Ravens won the 11-12 year old division.
With the 2010 champions ranging from the west to the east, Akins realizes where expansion has taken the league.
"Some people call it a travel league which is kind of fitting," Akins said. "Initially, we started out with Starkville, Macon, Louisville and West Point, then we started branching out because everyone was trying to do the same thing. We got together and everyone started playing together."