We recently sat-down with a multi-generation Naperville Saint mom, Nicole Jurjovec, to discuss her experience with the Saints. She's had two boys in the program: one on the 3rd grade team and one now playing in high school (with a third son in the wings)!
Thanks for sitting-down with us today Nicole. To start, can you tell us about your sons experiences with the Saints? Specifically, your middle son played his first year with the Saints 8U last year. How did it go?
Yes! Our Jimmy played on the 8U Naperville Saints football team this year. And it was an amazing experience. It was his first year playing and by the end of the season grew both his knowledge and his love for the game. Jimmy loves all sports. Before we tried football, like many kids his age, he had played a multitude of sports: baseball in the spring and basketball in the winter, swimming in the summer, and youth soccer in the fall. With football and soccer being the same season, we knew he would have to make a choice at some point. Jimmy had success in soccer, and eventually tried a few club camps and participated in the Premier League program. Football lineage must run strong because just as his older brother did, his love for soccer faded and Jimmy asked to try football. For us, there was no hesitation and we signed him up. Jimmy, and our entire family, had the best experience with the 8U Naperville Saints.
How did you feel about the safety of the program?
I felt very comfortable. The BGYFL (Bill George Youth Football League) of which the Naperville Saints is a member, requires all its coaches to earn USA Football certification. This certification involves learning proper football technique and training methods to ensure player safety. The way the football is coached, played and officiated has changed significantly over the past 20 years with an emphasis on player safety. The BGYFL also has weight restrictions for players who carry the football or play defensive positions outside of the defensive line. Our 8U boys played a 3 month season, including 10 games, with zero injuries.
Your oldest played in the program some years ago, is he still playing?
My oldest son started playing football in 1st grade and hasn’t stopped yet! He is now a freshman in high school and plays football for Naperville North. We feel like his early start as a first grader in the sport gave him a significant advantage over his peers now that he is in high school. He will be playing on the varsity next year, as a sophomore, in 2022. His love for football runs deep and I truly believe there is no other sport that teaches these young boys life lessons, in a team setting, that they will carry with them throughout their life.
Why start them playing football at a young age?
Starting at a young age gives the boys the opportunity to learn Discipline, Responsibility, Teamwork, Leadership, Dedication and Hard Work during a formative part of their life. These are not only skills that you need in football, but skills that are essential in life. Football is the ULTIMATE team sport.
When they start young, they also learn how to tackle properly and safely, and also how to be tackled safely while weighing 1/3 of what they will weigh when they grow to their full size later in high school. Additionally, they develop natural instincts and a knowledge of the game, at a young age, that they will carry with them to the next level.. I will never forget my first parent meeting as a mom of a football player, when my oldest was in 1st grade—my son’s head coach explained to us that they simply do not weigh enough at this young age to cause injury. He couldn’t have been more accurate.
How was it to stay up-to-date with the team; were there any tools you used to stay connected
The coach was very good at being communicative. We used a scheduling app to make it easy for parents. It was very easy to manage and know where you needed to be!
What events did the 8U team do together, on the field and off?
This is one of my favorite parts of football season…it’s fun for the whole family! Our team planned many activities, both on and off the field. We set up a “Mom’s Night In” so the moms could meet at the beginning of the season. In addition to having a little fun, we also made some banners and spirit sticks to use for each game. Next, we had a team barbeque after the first game so all the families could get to know each other. In addition to those, there were multiple outings after games, a homecoming game tailgate, and an end of season party. Football families are the best!
What role do you/have you seen that parents can play as volunteers?
There are so many opportunities for someone to get involved. You can be a head or assistant coach, which requires attending all the practices and games. Volunteers are also needed during each game for the scoreboard and the ‘chain gang’ on the sideline. Mom’s can also get involved in coordinating efforts to create comradery and team spirit with planning events and other fun season activities!
What was your favorite memory of the season?
My favorite memory of this past season was when my Dad, a retired football coach from Naperville Central, came to watch his grandson, Jimmy, play on the 8U team one Sunday morning. The coaches of the team were my husband, Dan and Mike Czuba. Mike Czuba was also one of my oldest son’s coaches, and he, himself was coached by my dad years ago when he was in high school at NCHS. It was a ‘full circle’ football moment. Coach Czuba chose to keep coaching youth football after his own son aged out and is now in high school. The commitment Mike has made to this team speaks volumes of what football has done for his life— we appreciate you, Mike and all of the wonderful Saints coaches.