Tim Goff: Teaching the next generation of football players in NW CT

Torrington: In the world of high school sports programs, having a quality feeder system in place is critical on so many levels.

Having athletes well versed in whichever sport they are taking part in can be the difference between a highly successful program and one that could be mired in struggles.

No sport signifies that better than football.

It’s a sport that requires players to understand what is expected of them at all times and to learn how to play the sports safely, a key component.

Knowing how to properly tackle might seem like a given but in a fast-paced game, trying to do so without the proper training can result in serious injury.

Tim Goff, of Goff’s Equipment in Litchfield has taken over the top job for the New Hartford Wolverines youth football program with the goal of making it a muti-program feeder system around the Northwest Corner. 

Here are his thoughts and goals for the program.

When did you take over as president of the program? I was elected Vice President in late September 2023 and then took over as President in December of 2023.

What made you take the step? Having grown up in New Hartford, I have a passion for volunteering in my community. My son has played for the Wolverines for four years and his passion for football has given me the inspiration to become more involved in the program and help it grow. There was a need to fill the presidency with someone who had some connections with the Town and the community.  I served as chairman of the New Hartford Board of Education from 2017 to 2021 and kept in contact with many of the school administrators and town officials.  It just kind of fell into place.  Bill Marcano was the President for seven years and has been a great mentor and a tremendous help with the transition.  Being a small business owner, I’m fortunate enough to have a flexible schedule and I’m able to set aside the time to commit to the program.

Remind me a bit about your background in sports. Personally, and as a coach.  I’m actually a basketball guy!  I fell in love with the game when I started playing in 7th grade for Torrington Christian Academy. I played through high school at TCA, and I still bang around on the court a little here and there.  I’ve always loved coaching.  I learned a lot from my middle school and high school coaches, including Frank Cantadore, Mike Terwilliger and John Russell, all great guys that taught me the game and passed their competitiveness on to me.  I coached a couple of teams for Torrington PAL while I was still in high school and was an assistant coach for CT Premiere, an AAU basketball team out of Wethersfield.  When my son started playing football, they were struggling to find coaches who were willing to commit the time to coach.  When our current A team head coach, Arik Brooks, asked if I would be interested in coaching football, I knew very little about the game but I’m a quick study and signed up to be a lineman coach, as my son plays on the line. Between what I’ve studied and help from Coach Brooks, I’m found my place as a line coach.  I’ve now roped in one of my salesman, Peter Dauten, to help on the line as well.  We’ve got a great coaching staff, a bunch of guys who are great mentors to our players.

What is the league structure and what towns do you serve?  We play in the CTYFL.  Currently we have 10 teams in the league and it’s growing.  We play eight games, plus playoffs.  Our 7th/8th grade team won the championship in 2021 under Chris Divita and Devin Schibi.  We play some good size programs like East Hartford, South Windsor, North Branford and more. Our program serves the towns of New Hartford, Barkhamsted, Winsted, Norfolk, Colebrook, Hartland, Harwinton, and Burlington.

Numbers to date? Each year we average around 100 football players and 30 cheerleaders. Our cheer portion of the program is really growing and is very competitive, winning 1st place in their cheer competition this past year!

Talk about how you are approaching getting the Wolverines tied in with GNH. Great question. Because we have so many towns as part of our program, we are the feeder program for GNH, Northwest United and Lewis Mills. GNH is the primary as most of our players attend Northwestern or Gilbert. Our coaches discussed getting our former players, now in high school or at college, back involved in the program in some fashion. We decided to host a football clinic in July and invited our formers players. That idea turned into an email to the local athletic directors which then became an email from coach Scott Salius from GNH. As it would figure, his coaching staff had the same idea of involving the youngers kids in some sort of summer clinic. Coach Scott and I talked, and we are now planning a four-day football clinic, to be held in July, where the current high school players, along with our alumni, will coach our players, show them techniques, run drills and more. I’d like to plan a clinic with Northwest United as well. Many of our players see the high school kids as heroes, especially players that were on our championship team in 2021. My long-term plan is to get our 7th/8th grade players better prepared to go to high school with the knowledge they need to be successful at that level. If we can better prepare them by mirroring the same techniques, drills, and formations that GNH runs, it’ll make their transition easier and will give Coach Salius a group that is ready for action immediately. 

How are you relating to concerned parents when they speak of injuries? Safety is the number 1 focus of our program and of our coaching staff. We are teaching players differently than we used to. We have taken a proactive approach to tackling techniques, teaching players not to tackle headfirst, teaching how to wrap and roll. Being a parent of a player, I understand their concerns but what I’ve learned through coaching is that many of the bad hits that we see are from players who haven’t been taught how to tackle. Before I was involved in football, I just thought a tackle was a tackle, it was tough and aggressive. But now through training and coaching, I’ve learned there is finesse, proper form, and technique. Knowledge is power and if we educate our parents and players alike, we have, and will continue to see a decline in injuries.

What safety measures do you have in place to help avoid injuries? This is what I am most proud of in my time with the program. Last year, we started a ‘campaign for safety’ fundraiser in an attempt to raise funds for new Riddell speed flex helmets and new shoulder pads. These helmets are state of the art, feature impact zones and inflatable bladders that form fit to each players head.  We raised the funds and purchased 100 new helmets and pads, just in time for last season. They are amazing. We saw our concussion numbers drop considerably, players feel safer and more confident knowing they are in the best equipment money can buy. We also keep a certified trainer on staff for all games, home and away. Our league requires all home teams to have their own trainer, but we pay extra to have him at all of our games and at our cheer competition. Having our own trainer ensures our players are getting immediate, qualified attention from a person who knows them by their first name.  There is something to be said by having a trainer that knows each of our players personally.

What is your long-term goal for the program? Another great question. My primary goal is to bring awareness to and grow the program. When I’m done, I’d like to see in excess of 150 players and 50 cheerleaders total. I want my grandkids to have the ability to play for the Wolverines and make sure the program is sustainable for years to come. I also want to shed the bad reputation football has in terms of concussions and injuries. Many parents are hesitant about signing their kids up to play because of the bad reputation football has when in fact, it’s relatively safe compared to other sports. Finally, I want to prepare our players for the next level. We have a lot of local talent, many players that can play high school and even college ball. Teaching them the tools, giving them confidence, and instilling that competitive drive that every player needs to play at the next level. By building a bridge between our program and the high school programs, I want to make every player’s transition to the next level as seamless as possible.

Name of league and opponents. We play in the CTYFL which includes the towns of:  East Hartford, North Branford, Vernon/Rockville, East Hampton, South Windsor, Stafford Springs, Manchester, Rocky Hill, Cromwell, Enfield, Haddam/Killingworth, Durham/Middlefield.

How do you fund the cost of uniforms, busing, etc.? 100% of our program is funded through registration fees, donations, and fundraising. We keep our registration costs low and make it up through fundraising. We have an excellent fundraising coordinator who works hard to secure awesome fundraisers. We will also have a sponsorship program this year, allowing for local businesses to advertise with our program. We are fortunate to have a great board of directors, awesome parents, and an amazing, supportive community.

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