The Warriors finished with a 6-2 record in their region in only the second year of the program.
All season long, the Flagler Warriors youth football team dealt with struggle.
While most teams were on their third or fourth game, the Warriors hadn’t even played their first due to the impact of Hurricane Irma in early September.
Yet, they pushed through.
And when they missed out on playing for the national championship by a single game, they responded yet again.
The Warriors, who finished with a 6-2 record in their region, defeated a team from Jacksonville 21-7 to finish third place in the national tournament in early December at the Osceola Sports Complex in Kissimmee. An achievement no Palm Coast team had ever accomplished.
“It was breathtaking. To be honest, I’m still taking all of it in at this moment,” assistant coach Dennis King said. “They played their hearts out. The kids really made it an unbelievable experience.”
From the first day of practice, the Warriors’ coaches challenged their athletes. One by one, the coaches singled out the team’s leaders — quarterback D.J. Murray, linebacker Peanut King and so on — to see how they would respond to adversity.
And according to King, the team, which was comprised of 9 and 10-year-olds, accepted the challenge with the maturity of athletes twice their age.
Over the course of the season, the language changed. The kids, some of whom had never played football before, began to grasp the formations, the offensive and defensive concepts, and the technique.
At one point, some of the kids were making on-field adjustments of their own. King said during some games, team leaders would tell the coaches to pull a player if he wasn’t giving a 100% effort.
“It showed that all these kids have what it takes to be a champion,” he said. “It shows that any given day, you can make a doctor be a doctor, or a lawyer be a lawyer, or a man be a man, but you can’t raise someone into a champion. Champions are built by themselves, and those kids took the initiative.”
But achievements on the field aside, the Warriors’ head coach, Pat Buckley, said the team achieved something even greater this season: Almost all the kids were honor roll students.
“In my opinion, that’s more important than football,” said Buckley, who’s coached youth-level football for the past nine years. “That was one thing we tried to stress to them.”
And despite the team’s outstanding record in only the second year of the program, Buckley said he will have done his job if the kids continue to come back.
“I don’t look at the wins or losses,” he said. “At the end of the year, if all the kids want to come back next year, that tells me we did our job.”