G-N in the playoffs: Great motivation for other small school football programs.
WINSTED-How big is it for the Litchfield County area to have a football team playing in the semi-finals of Class M, as the Gilbert Northwestern Yellowjackets are?
Beyond huge, try humongous.
For every struggling school, in or out of Litchfield County, they now have a model to take after, a leader to emulate.
Because if the ‘Jackets, who are just three years removed from 2-8 record, can make it to this level with hard work, dedication and desire, what’s to say Lewis Mills or Canton or Housatonic can‘t do the same?
“Hopefully this shows kids at other schools that it can be done,” head coach Scott Salius said Thursday night, “We are no different than they are, we don’t have a huge number of kids but the ones we do have done the work to get themselves to this point.”
The Peqout Uncas Division has had some top teams like Avon, Enfield and Coventry over the years with the rest of the schools trying their best to tread water.
Three years ago when Salius took over, he had his players hit the weight room and they haven’t stopped since.
G-N is becoming known for their defense, the held Plainville scoreless until a late touchdown in the fourth quarter in their first ever playoff game.
Getting yourself noticed as a football program, this side of the Farmington River is not easy but the ’Jackets have done it over the past week.
They are one of sixteen teams left playing football at a time when most would be getting ready for basketball, track or rest this winter.
“These players have gotten people to notice them around the State,” Salius said, “Newspapers and television stations from all over Connecticut are finding out about Gilbert/Northwestern football. There is football played north and west of Waterbury and what we are doing brings that to light.”
Let’s face it, being part of a successful anything is more fun than losing all the time and this success on the football team by the Yellowjackets may have far reaching benefits down the road.
“If some of the younger kids who come to the playoff game see that energy and atmosphere,” Salius said, “Maybe more of them go out for our youth programs.”
The feeder system is key in any sport, learning the basics needs to happen early in a players development, not once the enter high school.
As for the team, they seem lose and having fun, a key element for a team playing with house money.
After all, nobody thought they would be where they are so they feel and have no pressure on them.
“There is no pressure on them to win a State Championship as there might be with some other schools at this point,” Salius said, “This team has already accomplished more than an other team in school history to this point. A loss on Saturday does not make this an unsuccessful year.”
Playing loose is critical for any team and in the 41-6 win over Plainville in Torrington on Tuesday night, the bright lights of un-chartered territory didn’t phase G-N, in fact they seemed to thrive on it.
Just doing what they have done all season, nothing fancy, just good old fashioned, find somebody and hit the football.
Saturday afternoon at Municipal Stadium in Waterbury at 2 p.m., another leg of this journey will unfold against the Hillhouse Academics, a team who also was not expected to be here.
Hillhouse knocked of the Class M top seed, Berlin by a 33-30 score to get themselves to this spot.
NOTES: Saturday, read about what the ’Jackets will have to do to make it to the finals against a team that is not that different from themselves.