Before the Thomas Jefferson Little Jaguars left Pittsburgh for California to play in a national tournament, they got some words of encouragement from one of their biggest supporters, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
Roethlisberger, who sponsored the trip for the team to play in the Big Dawg Bowl in Redlands, California, had a simple message. He told them to win.
And they did just that. The 10-year old team from the Pittsburgh area defeated the Glendale Bandits 21-6 to win the bowl in their age group.
The Little Jaguars almost didn't get to play in the bowl, which is hosted by Steelers fan and rapper Snoop Dogg, because of finances. That is where Roethlisberger stepped in by paying all of the travel expenses for the team and coaches, continuing the commitment the NFL and Steelers have with youth football.
"To see the NFL send them to a game, their quarterback tell them go win one for me, I'm behind you. That is something I like to see," said Jim Nassida, the Little Jaguars coach. "When you have the highest pinnacle of sports holding hands with its infancy stages, it ties it all together. It makes it all real. It gives a new perspective whether you are shooting to be an NFL player or just playing because you love the sport.
"He said he sponsored us because these kids love to play football and I want to give them the chance. The fact that we won it for him was awesome. He said these kids love the game and I want to give them the opportunity. If everyone would adopt that approach it couldn't be anything but positive."
The Little Jaguars, who sported uniforms reminiscent of Steelers throwback uniforms in the bowl game, earned an invitation to the Big Dawg Bowl by winning the South Suburban Youth Football League Super Bowl. They went on to face a major challenge, taking on the Glendale team that had won 58 straight games. But they weren't fazed.
"For them to face this challenge, go across the country and face a team that hasn't lost in eight years made me proud," said Nassida. "It's what youth sports is all about. They knew what they were out there to do, and they did it. They showed the type of football we play here in Western Pennsylvania."
It was an experience they will never forget.
"When you get a chance to go out and represent your town, your Super Bowl winning quarterback, your city," said Nassida. "It was a chance to see the people they usually root for root for them. They had the community and city behind them. To have the starting quarterback of your team out there giving you encouragement, I don't think they could put it into words because I can't."
Team members include: Eric Copeland, Ryan Cusick, Devin Danielson, Chris Farrell, Justin Farrell, Tyler German, Jacob Giegerich, Brent Henderson, Bobby Kelley, Cole Lutz, Anthony Marchilena, Michael Marshall, Jonathan Muehlbauer, Jim Nassida, Luke Petruzzi, A.J. Putignano, Ty Ricketts, Dominic Serapiglia, John Stover, Logan Tomachesky, Justin Vigna, Zach Wagner, Zane Zandier and Jacob Zoller.