Club Football Feature

Vermont is not traditionally known for its football program, but it may be time for that to change.

Since it began six years ago, the football club has created one of the nation’s strongest club level teams.

When the club began in 2007, the only other club team in New England was the University of Maine, but today the Catamounts play in two divisions—Yankee Collegiate Football Conference and the National Club Football Association—against 12 schools in the northeast.

“Its grown into something that we didn’t expect and we want to keep seeing it grow,” club president Dane Liljestrand said. “Every year we bring in more talented kids.”

All that talent may have paid off. The team has had a strong enough record in the past three years to play in the YCFC championship, although they have not yet secured a championship win.

While UVM’s initial rival was Maine, the only other club team in the area, the past six years have seen an explosion of club football in the region. Today, the team’s biggest rival is Southwestern Connecticut Prep, a conglomerate of several community colleges in the Bridgeport, Conn. area.

“We are student-athletes and they are playing club football in this conference in order to keep playing football at the college level,” current club treasurer and rising co-president Evan Amery said. “Some of those kids will go on to play college football in Division I elsewhere. “

This is also the team that Vermont has come up against in the past three YCFC Championship Games.

“Each game has been close, unfortunately they’ve gotten to win it all three times, but it’s always a good game. They love playing us and we love playing them. There is a mutual respect between all of us,” Liljestrand said.

Members of the football club interviewed for this article agreed that games against Southwestern Connecticut were some of the team’s best memories. For Amery, it was his first ever game his first-year.

“I remember seeing our team and not thinking incredibly highly of us. Then showing up there and seeing 50-60 massive kids and thinking ‘oh god we are going to get destroyed.’” he said.

“Then on our opening play our quarterback took the ball and ran 90 yards for a touchdown. And I realized ‘we could play with these guys.’”

Rising co-president and captain Jake Leclerc said his favorite memory was handing Southwestern Connecticut their first ever loss in the history of the program.

“Coming into the game, Southwestern Connecticut had not lost a game since joining the YCFC. Going into that as a first-year was scary. We went up 21-0 and then beat them 21-14. That was pretty cool.”

The club football season begins about the same time as their professional counterparts begin training camp in mid-August, with the first game scheduled during the fist week of classes.

After the season, the top four teams play a two-round playoff with the championship game played at the top seeded school. The rest of the year the team holds strength and conditioning practices to stay in shape.

The commitment to be a member of the club is high, but Liljestrand feels that those on the team are there because they are willing to put in the effort.

“We expect a lot because we play at a pretty high level,” he said. “We want to keep that level up and the only way to do that is to keep on the kids and make sure that they are putting the time in. Football is a sport where if you’re not in-shape or you’re not committed wholeheartedly you’re going to get hurt.”

While the club welcomes anyone interested in playing, Liljestrand said that the 35 to 40 player team expects each member to commit as much as possible.

“We don’t cut anyone… but if you are not able to commit 100 percent and you’re not ready to get out there, football is a dangerous sport and you could hurt yourself or others,” he said.

There are a few months before the next season begins, but another year brings new beginnings as well as the addition of a national title game. Starting this fall, the NCFA will begin holding a National Championship Bowl in Morgantown, W. Va., for the two top teams nationwide.

“If we win it we have a good chance of making it to the NCFA National Championship game, but you never know,” Liljestrand said.

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