Gridiron dreams: Marblehead Youth Football kicks off new season with influx of players

It’s a cool and foggy evening at Gatchell’s and about 130 players with Marblehead Youth Football are passing, throwing and running. You can hear coaches calling plays and the thud of footballs landing in gloves. 

“Youth football teaches these boys about teamwork and responsibility on the field, executing plans and working together,” said Joe Dever, coach of the youngest players in grades two to four. 

 Marblehead Youth Football eighth-graders take to the field at Gatchell’s. CURRENT PHOTOS / LEIGH BLANDER

MYF has been around since the early 1950s, according to Matt Martin, who played in the league when he was a kid and has coached since 2006.

“Kids get a lot out of playing,” Martin said. “We teach them a great deal about the game and team sports, but also about putting the team first.”

Marblehead has been part of the Cape Ann Youth Football League since 1990 when Martin was in fifth grade. “We were league champs with eight wins and zero losses,” he remembered.

As a recent practice wrapped up, players took a knee and answered the question: What do you like most about playing football?

Marblehead Youth Football players listen to longtime coach Matt Martin.

“Being with my friends and playing the sport I love,” said James Machado, 13.

“It’s a great team sport and we definitely work hard,” added Trent Brown, also 13.

MYF is broken into four groups: grades two to four, five and six, seven and eight, and just eight. Most of the oldest kids have been playing for years. Many hope to suit up for the Marblehead High School Magicians.

At the opposite end of the field from the eighth-graders are the youngest players. Their reasons to suit up and play?

“I like doing the drills and catching the football,” said nine-year-old Nolan Sullivan.

 Marblehead Youth Football players in grades two-to-four show off their muscles at a recent practice.

 “Being part of the team and making new friends,” is most important to Will Gilman, also nine.

As for Hunter Funk, age seven, “I wanted to be like my favorite team, the Patriots.”

Making a comeback, new safety measures

Youth football is making a comeback, after some leaner seasons likely due to COVID and concerns about concussions, according to Martin.

“Numbers have been up and down for years now. Last few years the numbers have dipped. When I started coaching in 2006 we had almost 500 kids playing in town,” he said.

This year, for the first time in a decade, there are enough young players to have a team for players in grades two to four.

Keeping kids safe is a priority, Martin said.

“We have new helmets called Speed Flex with concussion-reducing technology. And we teach kids to take their head out of the tackle. Instead of tackling head first, we teach them to sink their hips” and lean in. 

“At this age (grades two through four) they mostly just hug and fall down,” Dever added with a laugh.

Players practice four evenings a week. Martin gives them Fridays off so they can attend MHS games. If they wear their game shirts, they get into games for free.

At a recent practice, dad Brian Butler watched his two sons, Nick, 11, and Drew, 10, on the field.

“They love football and being part of a team,” Butler said. “The coaches are easing them into it to make sure they don’t get hurt.”

David Nutt says his son, Colin, has watched the older kids play for years and was ready to join this fall.

“He loves being on the team,” he said.

Marblehead Youth Football teams play their first game of the season on Sept. 10, 9:30 a.m. at Masconomet Regional High School in Boxford. Home games begin Sept. 17 at Hopkins Field at the Village School. Other home games will be played Sept. 17 and 24, and Oct. 7, 8, 22.

To learn more about MYF, visit You can also follow them on Facebook at @MarbleheadYouthFootball.

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Leigh Blander is an experienced TV, radio and print journalist who has written hundreds of stories for local newspapers, including the Marblehead Reporter. She also works as a PR specialist.

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