ROCKFORD (WREX) — Playing football Thanksgiving week usually means a team is playing for a high school state championship. But the Rockford Renegades 9-year-old team heads to Indiana Saturday to play for a Midwest Regional championship.
"Like I tell the guys, there's only three teams playing left," Renegades president Ron Gates said. "It's us, Lena and Byron. That's a pretty good feat for itself. They didn't know what I was talking about but they asked their parents and figured it out."
Ron Gates is the president of the Renegades program and also the Rockford Lutheran head football coach. He credits this team's coaching staff, and also the mentality of the kids.
"This group here, for 9 years old, they pay attention really well," Gates said. "They work together as a team. There's no fighting with each other. They don't get on each other when they have a bad play. They just have fun."
Playing for a championship sets the foundation for future success, as the kids learn lessons about how to approach the moment.
"Put in hard work and effort in practice and show your best," running back and linebacker Amir Smith said. "And show what you do in practice in a real game."
The kids are trying to keep their focus while they prepare for a big game.
"It's nerve-wracking," running back and defensive back Leon Horton said. "We just gotta work hard and have good effort and we're going to win."
That work is what leads to Horton's favorite part of the game.
"That you get to run the ball and score touchdowns for your team," Horton said, flashing a smile when he said he scores a lot of touchdowns.
As it's Thanksgiving week, Gates has plenty for which to be thankful.
"I'm just thankful to work with the kids," he said. "That's why I do this. I've been doing this a long time. You get a good relationship with the parents. It's just like one big family out here. We have 165 kids in the program. I just look forward to coming out here."
And the kids look forward to trying to finish off their great season with another win. They take on a team from Nebraska Saturday in Indiana.