YOUNGSTOWN-For many people, the football season climaxed with Sunday's Super Bowl, but not so for four girls from Columbiana County.
This Saturday, Brittany Mook, Alexis Cross and Miranda Dunlap, (all students at Columbiana, along with Sadie Walker of East Palestine will take the field at AT&T Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys, for the NFL Flag Football Tournament of Champions.
The girls are part of a nine-member all-girl team (ages 12-14) that plays in the Youngstown Youth Flag Football Association. The team is coached by former Youngstown State wide receiver Elliott Giles and is attempting to become the first-ever girls NFL youth team to repeat as national champions.
"Everybody is really excited to get down there," Mook said. "I've seen the stadium on TV and it is huge. It will be a thrill to play on that field."
This is the fourth straight year, the girls from the 12-14 age division will be competing in the Tournament of Champions. Eight regional qualifying events are held around the country, with the winners invited to compete for a national championship. The team is the only local girls squad in the 12-14 age group, meaning they play the entire regular season against boys teams, making the tournament somewhat of a reprieve.
"Boys play the game faster, so the action really slows down for us when we get to regionals," Mook said. "It's definitely a little easier for us."
"Regionals were a breeze this year," Giles said.
Mook, a freshman at Columbiana, is one of three returning members from last season's national championship squad.
"I think we are a better team this year," Mook said. "We can pass the ball a lot better and we are a lot more well rounded."
Mook is the second member of her family to play for Giles. Her sister Baylie, now the starting point guard for the Clipper basketball team, immediately preceded her.
"That definitely was an influence on me," Mook said. "Seeing Baylie get to experience being a part of a team like this made me want to do it too.
The team is led on offense by quarterback Dakota Naples from Wilmington, Pa., and wide receiver Zanyia Brown from Youngstown, while Mook is the leader on defense. From her cornerback position she is entrusted with making the defensive play calls.
'Brittany is a very smart, experienced player," Giles said. "She has a great feel for the game."
Mook's play-calling will be even more heavily relied upon this weekend, as coaches are not allowed to call plays from the sideline during the tournament. The girls wear wristbands containing the plays.
"We will be very well prepared," Mook said. "That's one thing that coach (Giles) really stresses."
"We watch a lot of film of ourselves during practice, which really helps" Giles said. "From past experience I know a lot of the other teams in the tournament and what their tendencies are. I think the girls are very confident right now."
Snapping the ball on offense will be Walker, who is in her first year of playing flag football. Walker, a freshman on the East Palestine basketball team, was scouted by Giles during a junior high basketball game.
"I've watched all of these girls play basketball," Giles said. "It's a good indication of what type of athlete they are. I've been very impressed with Sadie. She has great hands and has been a good addition at center for us.
"This year has been unbelievable," Walker said. "I've always loved football and this gives me a great opportunity to play and also to meet other girls from around the area. It's been so much fun."
Cross and Dunlap are both contributors off the bench
"They both played a lot on the 11- to 12-year-old team this year that lost in regionals," Giles said. "They have both done a good job of buying their time and waiting their turn."
The team will have all of its expenses except for the plane tickets paid for by the NFL. The girls hope to get an inside tour of the stadium and will spend the day in Dallas after the tournament sight seeing.
"Most families are aware that we have a great chance to get to nationals so they plan the trip in advance," Giles said. "It is a tremendous opportunity and one that these girls have worked very hard to earn."