That loud collective thud you heard about 4pm on Sunday was the sound of countless New York Jets fans around the tri-state area jumping off of the band wagon as the co-occupants of MetLife Stadium lost to the Miami Dolphins, 23-3. Conversely, the loud roar that emulated from the Village of Harlem this weekend was the fans, supporters and parents of another team that calls itself the Jets. You see, the Pee Wee Division of the Harlem Jets are on their way to Orlando to play for the National Youth Football Championship Tournament, while the NFL version of the Jets appear to be headed for the top of next spring’s Draft.
I don’t know why Jets fans are that upset. Two months ago If someone would have told you that Gang Green was going to win five games this season, you would have signed up for that in a New York minute. When incumbent starting quarterback Mark Sanchez went down with his season-ending shoulder injury, the worst record in the NFL and first selection in the 2014 NFL Draft appeared to be inevitable. However, a funny thing happened on the road to the upcoming first round selection.
Rookie quarterback Geno Smith guided the NFL Jets to a 5-4 record, including upsets over New England, Atlanta and New Orleans. After they defeated New Orleans, folks were already penciling them in as the second wildcard playoff team. They went from the team tabbed to be one of the worst in the league to one of the biggest surprises. That Saints game seems so long ago.
Since then, those Jets have lost three straight and weren’t even competitive in any of those contests. Smith has been so inept in the three games that Head Coach Rex Ryan benched him in the second half of Sunday’s game in favor of undrafted free agent Matt Simms, who was coaching high school football this time last year. I heard of someone being tabbed down and out, but Smith should have been nicknamed three and out during that stretch. So while the Elder Jets appear to be fading out of playoff contention, the Pee Wee Division (120 lbs and under) of the Harlem Jets are on their way to the Youth Football National Tournament.
Head Coach Tyson Pratcher has led the Jets to an undefeated record (8-0 regular season in the Empire State Youth Football League and 4-0 in the regional post season) thus far and they hope to bring home the Holy Grail from the Sunshine State next week. The Pee Wee Harlem Jets, unlike their older namesakes, have basically run buckshot over their competition during the 2013 campaign.
The Harlem Jets are led by Rahmir Mashor (running back and linebacker) and Sean Cousine-Jasper (running back and wide receiver). Both Mashor and Cousine-Jasper have scored 25 touchdowns apiece and collectively gathered over 3,000 yards from scrimmage. The team has averaged over 35 points per game, while only giving up one touch down this season, and that was to an older team that had kids that weighed as much as 200 lbs. That is the equivalent of having Joe Montana led San Francisco 49ers of the 1980s on offense and the 1985 Chicago Bears on defense in the same locker room. They beat most teams into submission to the point where the referees were forced to evoke the Mercy Rule, which ended most of their games by halftime. This included a game against a team from Buffalo that was ranked #3 nationally during their playoff run. I know Rex has to be envious.
Any coach would be proud to say his squad is 12-0 but coach Pratcher is proud of what his young men have accomplished off the field as well. Several of the players’ grades have improved over the course of the season with the help of volunteer tutors and even some teammates. One player’s grades went from an average of 70 to the mid 90’s since the beginning of the season.
Another kid lost 30 lbs in order to meet the 120-pound weight requirement. He not only changed his eating habits, but initiated a healthier lifestyle for the rest of his family as well.
The Harlem Jets use Positive Peer Pressure, where teammates hold each other accountable to do the right thing on the field, at home and in the classroom. If one player does something wrong, the whole team is disciplined. Therefore, no one wants to be the guy who is responsible for making the team execute extra pushups or run laps around the field
Coach Pratcher and Team Mom Yasmin Hurston Cornelius are looking forward to the National Championship Tournament in Florida next week. For one, the team earned their spot and this will be a great experience for the kids. For some of the 12-year olds, this will be the first time that they get to fly on a plane or stay in a hotel. Running buck shot over their competition is one thing, but I bet you handing in their boarding passes and getting their hotel keys will be events that they will remember for the rest of their lives.
Like I said, I’m not jumping off of the bandwagon of the Jets that reside at MetLife Stadium just yet. I have been a fan of Gang Green since the phrase Namath to Rich Caster blared out of the public announcement system at Shea Stadium. Those Jets have already exceeded my expectations and I still feel that Geno will get it together. However, the Jets that play their games at the intersection of 128th Street and Third Avenue have captured my imagination and deserve our respect. Let’s wish them well next week in Orlando.