Youngsters who want to run, pass, block and tackle like the big boys are learning the basics on a trio of area youth teams with the relatively new Northern New Mexico Children’s Football League (NNMCFL).
The NNMCFL is an independent league based in Santa Fe and is entering its fourth season.
Longtime youth coach and Edgewood resident Isaac Padilla organized the first NNMCFL team in the East Mountains.
There are also two teams in Estancia.
Padilla coached Young America Football League (YAFL) teams for a number of years but said when he heard about the NNMCFL it appealed to him.
The league’s website says its goal is to provide an opportunity to learn the fundamentals of football while being a feeder program for area middle and high schools.
“That was the biggest thing for us, aligning with more of the teams they’ll see in high school, especially with Moriarty dropping to 4A,” Padilla said.
The coach noted that playing games in Santa Fe won’t be much farther than his former YAFL games that were all played in Albuquerque or Rio Rancho and sometimes as far away as Grants and Gallup.
Padilla’s team is called the Pintos, aligning with the Edgewood Middle School and Moriarty High School football programs.
Padilla said 14 players from last year’s YAFL team have returned to play with this year’s Pintos. The players are age 10 to 12 years old.
Amy Lowry, whose son Caden has played YAFL football under Padilla for a couple of years, is one of those returning. “I think this year is going to be better—I’d rather go to Santa Fe any day of the week than go to Rio Rancho or Albuquerque,” she said, adding, “And Isaac’s a great coach, the kids really respect him.”
Robin Heath, whose 10-year-old son Jackson also played for Padilla last year, said she likes that the team is implementing the same program as the middle school “so our boys will be ready.”
Julia Shrader’s 10-year-old son Lane previously played flag football in Albuquerque but said he likes this program a lot better “because it’s more like real football.”
The Pintos got their first taste of exhibition action last Saturday in a scrimmage at Edgewood Middle School.
The Pintos scrimmaged against the Estancia team in the same age division, the Gladiators, coached by Teddy Astorga.
Astorga said he also formerly coached YAFL but prefers the Santa Fe league. “They give you more options and the organization of the league is better,” Astorga said.
Estancia’s Dre Moreno scored the first touchdown of the scrimmage on a 30-yard run. His older brother Cruz—who plays for Estancia High’s varsity team—and former Bears standout lineman Gabe Garcia helped officiate the scrimmage.
The Pintos responded with a long touchdown run by Gray Wolf—a play that went as far across the width of the field as it did lengthwise.
“Oh my god, that play was awesome!” Wolf’s mother Sophia said.
The Pintos added a touchdown by Amare Gonzales, two by Caden Lowry, and a pair of TD passes by Padilla’s son Jeremy.
“Both the offense and defense looked good,” Padilla said. “My thing is, I want them to have fun. I don’t care if we win a game—I mean it’d be great to win them all—but I just want them to be better off when they leave than when they got here, so when they get to middle school they have the basics down.”
The Pintos and Gladiators kick off the regular season Saturday in Santa Fe. The Pintos face the Santa Fe Demons while the Gladiators battle the S.F. Venom.
Ger has been writing and shooting photos of high school sports for The Independent for 15 years. His dedication to youth athletics goes beyond sports reporting. He is past president of East Mountain Little League and works as a baseball umpire. He lives in Edgewood with his family.