Big things coming with 'The League'

As he sits in his home in Fort Lauderdale, John Papas toils among the various tasks to bring his brainchild, "The League," to life.

"It's actually kind of fun," said the former Buckingham, Browne & Nichols coach who now runs the Elite Football Clinics.

What Papas and others have created is a football league of area high school-aged players that is set to start games in May. There have been invitations sent to players, and there will be tryouts. Teams will be picked by a draft so the best players aren't all stacked on one side. There are currently126 players pre-registered for four teams (right now to be based in the North Shore, Metro Boston, Metro West, and South Shore) which will be divvied up later.

It is the first such league in the country, and started mainly out of the need for kids to play somewhere once Covid interrupted interscholastic play.

"This is not an overnight decision by us," Papas said. "We've been thinking about this since the fall since kids in Massachusetts — actually, kids from a lot of states — couldn't play."

Papas stressed that he is hoping the MIAA fall 2 season is a success.

"In the end, the most important thing here is that these kids get to play as much football as they possibly can," Papas said. "So we're rooting for (fall 2) to happen. . . . We are encouraging every kid to (play the MIAA season)."

But the key is that fall 2 and The League don't totally overlap. The League will have tryouts in March, practices in April, and games will start the first weekend in May.

Right now, Papas estimates that 75 to 80 percent of The League's players are from the private school ranks. That group does not have the benefit of fall 2, and many of those players have not participated in a football game in 24 months.

While missing game experience is unfortunate, one of the many negative impacts is on recruiting. A primary goal of The League is to remedy that.

"People said to me, 'Pap, why'd you do this?' Two major reasons. Number one is . . . Massachusetts is one of 14 states that did not play football this year. So it's for kids that love to play football. Number two is they didn't play football, and if you don't play football, you can't get recruited. It's for kids who want to get recruited and play at the next level. One of the most important things we're going to do is we're going to make sure we film every game and practice."

Papas is well connected with college coaches, and has been in contact with them about The League. He said the excitement level has been high to see what transpires.

"I have gotten calls, I have gotten texts, I have gotten emails from college coaches at the Division 1 level, from Ivy League coaches to Patriot League coaches that are thrilled about this league," Papas said. "Again, it's giving them an opportunity to see these kids play."

The coaches in The League right now consist of current Div. 3 college coaches, now-retired former Div. 1 coaches, and current prep school coaches. They are already looking at film of players, many of whom Papas describes as relative unknowns due to the circumstances.

Although this is a unique venture, Papas does not see this as a one-off deal.

"This is going to be here to stay," he said. "We think it's going to be nationwide, to be honest with you. Thirty-six states currently do not have spring football."

And therein lies the need for it.

"I love the three-sport athlete, but the bottom line is a lot of kids love to play football," Papas said. "There's AAU for basketball. There's juniors for hockey. There's club for lacrosse and in soccer. But there's nothing for football players. Nothing."

And if Papas has anything to do with it, that's about to change.

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