LAKEWOOD RANCH — Fourteen-year-old defensive end Tyler Dicarlo has played in more than five dozen games since walking onto the East Manatee Bulldogs’ football field for the first time eight years ago.
But no matter how many wins he and his teammates may have racked up over the years, there’s still one game that continues to elude the Braden River Middle School eighth-grader — the Super Bowl.
Dicarlo landed on football’s biggest stage four years ago — only it wasn’t his team’s time to shine. In fact, he and his teammates weren’t even playing in the game.
Instead, Dicarlo watched his older brother, Justin, 15, and the rest of East Manatee’s junior midget squad win the 2005 National Championship, capping off a historic playoff run.
It was a monumental moment for his brother and the rest of the league, and one Tyler Dicarlo wants to experience for himself. Now, as prepares to finish out his final season with the Bulldogs, Tyler Dicarlo is hoping this year will be he and his midget teammates’ year to shine.
“I watched my brother go all the way to the Super Bowl, and seeing that just makes me want to win the Super Bowl,” Tyler Dicarlo said. “I want to get one of the rings like he has.”
For Tyler and Justin Dicarlo and their teammates, Austin Snowden, 13, Devyn Williams, 14, Matthew Hueston, 14, and Kyle Mauk, 13, there is added incentive to play well this season: It will mark the last time the six teammates are all on the field together at the same time.
Their journey together began eight years ago when the six players started playing flag football for the Bulldogs, following in the footsteps of their fathers and older brothers.
“I started throwing a football around when I was 2 years old, and when I was old, enough I started to play,” Snowden said. “And since then, I’ve just developed a love for the game.”
Most of them were 5 years old at the time and knew little about the game of football. But that slowly began to change as the players gradually worked their way up through the Pop Warner system.
With each passing season, Tyler and Justin Dicarlo, Snowden, Williams, Hueston and Mauk continued to develop both on and off the field, focusing on fundamentals, learning what it means to be a team player and developing a genuine passion for the game itself.
“I love the pride of wearing the Bulldogs jersey and carrying the helmet,” Hueston said.
“I like the interaction of the whole team coming together as a family and playing together as one,” Williams said. “(Playing for the Bulldogs) has taught me to have heart for the game and to always keep playing no matter what happens. I’ve learned to keep my head up and never quit.”
Over the years, the players have made lasting memories — from playing in the bounce house after winning their Homecoming game to tackling new positions and learning valuable life skills.
It’s memories such as these that the players carry with them and occasionally share with the league’s younger players, particularly those who are starting out in the same position they were eight years ago.
“I would tell them to keep their heads high and have fun, because they’ve got nine years ahead of them,” Hueston said of his biggest piece of advice to the players who are just starting out.
Now with only two games left in the regular season, the players know those might be their final chances to all play together on the same field. Next year, the players will split up for the first time since their first season playing flag football.
Tyler and Justin Dicarlo and Snowden said they plan to play for Braden River High next year, while Williams and Hueston will move on to play for Bradenton Prep and Cardinal Mooney, respectively.
And although the players are eager to begin playing at the next level, they admit it will be difficult not to see their teammates on a regular basis.
“I’m going to miss all of the memories,” Hueston said. “This is basically my whole childhood, so I’m definitely going to miss the experience.”
“I’m going to miss everybody, but I’m also looking forward to starting a new family over there,” he said.
Contact Jen Blanco at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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