Daniel Gonzales has been coaching football long enough to know it’s not about the wins and losses, it’s about impacting lives and building character in young men and women that he coaches. He started coaching when his daughter was three years old and now she is 29 years old.
Playing football is his classroom to teach life lessons, and by winning the seven- and eight-old Roswell Youth League regular season championship and Super Bowl, in successive years, Gonzales’ N.C. Wolfpack has provided memories that will allow his players to look back on when they have kids of their own, and allow them to participate with fond memories.
To win they had to defeat the Red Raiders, Hurricanes and the Irish. Gonzales is a firm believer that if his players put in the work they will win games and championships. Gonzales goes into each season expecting to win and does everything he can to get his players to believe they can win — and if they don’t win know that they did everything they could to win and they competed to the best of their abilities.
“It was by no means easy,” Gonzales said, “after losing nine players. I was looking to have a good season and I was able to draft some good talent which helped. I had a player named the Offensive Player of the Year in Ezekiel Barrientos. Not only do we give these trophies out, but we give rings out to our Super Bowl champs.”
Gonzales practices four days out of the week, on Monday, Tuesday and he will give his team Wednesday for church, and then they will practice Thursday and Friday until the season starts.
The RYFL has catered to the youth of the Roswell community. The league turns no kid that wants to play away because of a lack of finances, talent or ability. The league wants to be inclusive and meet the needs of the community. James Edwards acknowledges that they have given out an equal number of scholarships to Roswell and Goddard kids that could not afford the registration fee, just to get them to participate.
The normal registration fee is $90. With that the players are issued helmets, shoulder pads, mouthpieces and a jersey. The $90 fee is the cheapest in the state. With that, they furnish insurance which is normally a secondary insurance and if a family has no insurance it will serve as a primary.
The league is very frugal with their money and has two treasurers.
“Because of that,” Gonzales said, “I would like to say thank you to the business owners. Everything they do is top notch. When it comes down to supporting our youth. It doesn’t matter if it is baseball, football, high school, dance. They get hit up more times than not and they’re going to support a youth. Without the business owners, it would be hard for us to continue. “
Seven years ago, under the leadership of Pilar Carrasco, a flag football league for five and six-year-olds was developed to make them feel a part of the league and give them an outlet to play football. RYFL also had it’s first girl play this year: 10-year-old Jade Franklin. Franklin played nose guard for the Raiders.
The league has a five-year-old flag football league, a seven- and an eight-year-old league, nine- and 10-year-old league and 11-12 year-old league. Each team can carry 17 players with six teams in the league.
RYFL president James Edwards said the league has a brief tryout for a player that has never played before. With the help of Chris Martinez and Gerard Gonzales they will help set up a draft. Edwards, Daniel Gonzales, Gerard Gonzales and Martinez will have the kids do some running, get in a three-point stance, and then take the kids to where they will hold a North and South draft.
The North will hold their draft first and the South will be held on the next day. The league consisted of three north teams two south teams and one valley team (kids from Hagerman, Dexter and Lake Arthur). They will rotate the draft so that no one has a stacked team and the competition is equal.
“It has created parity in our league,” Edwards said. “This year we created a most valuable player on offense and defense. The nice part about it is the referees pick the players, not the coaches so there is no bias involved.”
The league follows the NFL on safety and each coach has to pass and be certified for safety and in teaching how to tackle. The league is in compliance with concussion protocol and is only allowed to hit and have full contact three hours a week, including games.
“We try to follow the New Mexico Activities Association guidelines,” Edwards said. “I probably had two days of contact this whole year, because I don’t want my kids getting beat up. Back in the day, it used to be hit that tree or wall, now it is more about the safety. I want a kid that when he leaves to always come back. That’s the foundation of our league. We go through state protocol and state tackling. We try to be as safe as possible.”
Edwards is in his second year as president of the RYFL. He believes so much in the RYFL and the impact the league can have on a kid’s life that he will make his kids bring their report cards to him. He feels like those kids become his family. Both Gonzales and Edwards played in the RYFL as kids and attest to what it has done for their lives. Gonzales won the nine- and 10-year-old Super Bowl.
“I want good, productive citizens,” Edwards said. “My rules are don’t talk back to your parents, don’t get in trouble at school and you will not fight with your teammates. If you don’t have grades you (kids) don’t play. My motto is a kid gets a C just for going to school.”
Edwards believes that the RYFL has something special. The league will hold a free football camp at Cielo Grande Soccer Complex July 14 until the first day of school. At the camp is where a kid will learn how to get in and out of a stance, kick the ball, throw a pass and block and tackle.
Edwards views the RYFL competition as a game. He noted that one of his players was crying after a loss. At the end of the day, he told the kid it’s a competition.
“When you have kids crying,” Edwards said, “that’s a teaching moment. The parents make it bigger than it should be. We give back, time is more valuable than money.”
Edwards has added a North-South All-Star game at 2 p.m. on Dec. 2. Edwards believes that by having this game it will encourage the 11-year-olds to come back and play. He also sees this as a wise move to growing the RYFL.
“A lot of our kids,” Edwards said, ‘if they’re 12 years old or seventh graders … a lot of them won’t get an opportunity to play. Hobbs came into our league because they don’t play sixth and seventh-grade football.”
Edwards believes that the parents are supportive, but must be realistic in that not all of their kids can be a quarterback, running back or play wide receiver. Edwards believes in teaching life lessons at an early age. The league has received phone calls from other communities as far away as Albuquerque-Hobbs. The league has expanded with an influx of 11-12 year-olds playing instead of playing middle school football.
Edwards believes that it is a fellowship, RYFL. Both Goddard and Roswell players will come back and help teach the game to the younger players. Gonzales and Edwards take pride in going to a football game on Friday night and smiling, knowing that they had coached one of the players out there.
“We hope to be in every one of our young men’s lives,” Daniel Gonzales said. “We want to instill something in them that they can hold onto through their whole life and become a good citizen, become a responsible young man and father, which we need today. To me, that is something we are lacking as a society. I was blessed to have my father (Mike) in my life and blessed to have a lot of other father figures through the Roswell Boys Club (Rudy Burrola, Ray Baca and Steve Wagner) — that’s where me and James met.”