Through 38 years of organized youth tackle football, the 2016 fall varsity season will go down as one of the Lutz Chiefs’ most dominant ever.
They went 14-1.
They were crowned Tampa Bay Youth Football League (TBYFL) Super Bowl champs.
And, they won “The Battle of the Bay,” toppling the best Pinellas County had to offer.
All told, it was a remarkable year for the Chiefs 13-14-year-old division team.
In fact, the Super Bowl victory marked the organization’s first championship since 2009 — and the first for a Chiefs varsity squad since 2006.
As for the team’s lone blemish? It came in the form of a 12 to 6 overtime loss in the fifth game of the season.
Tom Wiltse, director of the Lutz Chiefs, described the season this way: “It’s just one of those things where everything kind of clicked. We knew we had a really good opportunity to go far this year.”
The outcome was perhaps a year in the making.
Many integral pieces — including a stable coaching staff — returned from a respectable two-loss 2015 season.
“We brought back a lot of the same players,” Wiltse said, “but, we picked up a couple of other key players — really good athletes.”
Getting the group to play as a cohesive unit, however, was the critical part, said Zack Kilburn, Chiefs varsity head coach.
“We had a great deal of talent,” Kilburn said, “but, the biggest success was for them to become a team.
“We had a bunch of kids that had been used to being the superstar at multiple levels… and we had to teach them to be a part of a team, and how to work through those aspects.”
That meant an enhanced focus on building positive character traits — like integrity and dedication, and honesty and sportsmanship.
“Talent can only take you so far,” said Kilburn, who’s coached with the Chiefs for more than a decade. “We had a big philosophy on concentrating on the little things — teaching these kids that the little things are going to make them successful in life, and on the football field.”
On the gridiron, the Chiefs coach said the Chiefs’ pressure-heavy 4-4 defense was “probably the biggest deciding factor” in the 14 wins — several of which were shutouts.
“We kind of adapt what our defense is doing,” Kilburn said. “We do a lot of blitzing to try to mix it up and confuse the opposing offense.”
Unsurprisingly, several names etched on the Chiefs’ 2016 varsity roster have lofty ceilings ahead.
Many will eventually dot the football rosters of area high schools like Steinbrenner, Freedom, Wharton and Gaither.
“I’d bet there’s seven, maybe eight kids that are going to be really good players in high school,” Wiltse said.
A few may even don Division I uniforms.
“When you’re moving up, the competition gets better…but we got a couple of kids that for sure are going to be playing DI football,” Wiltse said.
Reaching the game’s uppermost levels isn’t foreign to the Chiefs.
The organization has produced two current NFL players — wide receiver Nelson Agholor and quarterback Aaron Murray.
Both are Philadelphia Eagles, ironically.
Agholor, for one, is particularly passionate about his Lutz Chiefs playing days.
During the 2015 NFL offseason, he made an appearance at a Chiefs practice, where he spoke to current players about the bonds he formed throughout youth football.
There, Agholor proclaimed, “I’m a Chief for life.”
“It was just really, really cool.” Wiltse said of the memorable moment. “People got goosebumps.”
Agholor, like countless others, are part of what Wiltse refers to as ‘Chiefs Nation.’
The moniker — like the organization — casts a wide net. It describes current (and former) youth players and cheerleaders, along with families and other volunteers.
“We kind of got something special up here,” Wiltse said.
And, while winning games is important, the Chiefs director noted the organization’s purpose rests in “teaching family values.”
“I tell people all the time, ‘If you can get the infrastructure behind you, the wins…will come shortly thereafter,’” Wiltse said. “But, you got to build that infrastructure.”
Meantime, the varsity squad — and the Chiefs’ other age divisions— will shortly suit up for spring football, where practices begin Feb. 1.
They’ll compete in the Tampa Bay Extreme Spring Football (TBXSF) league, which has a short season league, and draws squads from Pop Warner and Pinellas County.
Simply put, the Chiefs will compete against teams they normally wouldn’t face.
“It’s pretty good at judging where your whole organization is when you’re playing some of these other teams,” Wiltse said.
For more information on the Lutz Chiefs, visit LutzChiefs.org.
Published December 28, 2016