“Research honestly says the more football you play, the better you get,” Papas said.
Papas had long viewed spring football as an experience and advantage elsewhere. He said nine of the top 10 states in NFL-tied talent have spring football leagues. But overall, only 21 states are playing in the spring, giving New England players a chance to enter the race.
“Over the years I’ve noticed that we’ve produced a lot of really good players. . . [but] It seems like we’ve fallen behind states like Florida, Georgia, Texas and California,” Papas said.
Papas hired Mike Willey, BB&N head coach and a former player and coach under him, as league commissioner and brought his resources and connections to The League.
The exercises were held on weekends to avoid conflicts with spring sports. Players, connected to their teams via additional Zoom calls, competed in four regular-season games after a tryout and preseason. The organization employs NCAA-level umpires and has several top-flight college and high school head coaches to manage the five teams.
“[Coaches] I love it because they can become coaches,” Willey said. “[And] Every single kid that plays in this league is like a guy who loves soccer. They love it. You want to get better. They want to be trained hard; they want to improve.”
Recruitment was also at the forefront of The League’s mission. Every regular season game is recorded on HUDL’s video platform for college coaches. Willey says programs ranging from Divisions 2 and 3 to FBS universities have checked in with The League on a regular basis.
“We had a couple of guys from last year who got grants and stuff like that right off their film,” Willey said. “I think this year will be the same.”
Tiger An, a 5-foot-6-inch sophomore running back from Windham, NH, didn’t know a single teammate when he joined The League. But he emerged as the season’s breakout star, lumbering by a 15-yard score in a semifinal game. Also, college interest on this stage became more common and accessible.
“I’ve talked to a lot of people, had a lot of interviews, [and] got a lot of views. I’m going out there,” An said.
Lawrence Academy second defensive end Dominic Selvitelli made a pass for the Southwest Cobras. He’s been in touch with a few Ivy League schools for his defensive skills and even caught a one-handed pass as an eligible receiver on Sunday. Selvitelli said his knowledge of the line of defense has grown exponentially with the Cobras.
“[Learning] The crash at the end and what I have to observe in the backcourt – that was all very good defensively [help],” he said.
The Cobras defeated the Knights in Sunday’s mini-tournament final, winning 21-0 in a shortened game of 14-minute halves. Willey had high expectations for the weekend and the season as a whole, saying the physical game brought home the talent represented in The League.
“I think it exceeded my expectations for the quality of the product,” Willey said.