A Valley youth football team has received the opportunity of a lifetime, as it will fly to Florida in early December to compete for a national championship at the 12U level.
The Arizona Jaguars, coached by former NFL defensive lineman and current Desert Vista line coach Derek Kennard Jr., received the invitation to the National Youth Championships for the American Youth Football League from Dec. 4-12, one of the largest national tournaments on the youth football circuit.
“We want to represent Arizona,” Kennard said. “It’s an honor to be going out there and it will be an awesome experience for our kids. Our goal is to win a championship.”
Kennard founded the Jags organization three years ago when his son, Derek “Tre” Kennard III, was 9 years old. The team is made up of players from all over the Valley, including many from Ahwatukee, Chandler, Gilbert and Mesa. Kennard said it’s also common for parents from northwest Phoenix drive to Tempe or Pecos Park in Ahwatukee for their kids to join the Jags.
While only two games into the regular season against league competition, the Jags played a prestigious preseason schedule which helped earn the invitation. Kennard said his team faced several out-of-state teams, including some from California and the surrounding states.
Overall, the Jags sit at 8-1 on the year, most of which having come during preseason.
“We’ve been stacking up our competition so we could get the best looks possible,” Kennard said. “We just want to make sure we are as prepared as possible for when we go to Florida.”
Kennard hopes to make it a trip of a lifetime for his players. But that comes with a price.
The Jags have spent much of the month fundraising any way they can to help pay for every player to travel to Florida. Kennard aims to use the funds raised to pay for flights, three large rental vans and two Airbnb houses where players, coaches and the parents able to go can stay.
Kennard estimates the total trip to be around $20,000, which also includes fees to compete at nationals and food for everyone for the week.
The Jags have done everything from selling promotional cards to fundraisers at local restaurants. On Thursday, Oct. 29, Some Burros in Ahwatukee donated 30 percent of all pre-taxed food sales to the Jags. Kennard said the team is also accepting donations via Venmo, Cash App and GoFundMe.
“We are trying to do everything we can,” Kennard said. “It’s a tough time with COVID and with it being in December it’s right before the holidays. We are trying to be proactive to raise as much as we can.”
Not only will the trip be special for Kennard as a coach, but as a parent.
Tre grew up hearing stories about his grandfather, Derek Kennard Sr., who played several years in the NFL on the offensive line. He also heard about his father’s career, which led him to play for the Indianapolis Colts and in the Canadian Football League. His uncle, Devon Kennard, had an illustrious career at Desert Vista and USC before he was drafted by the New York Giants in 2014.
An outside linebacker, Devon played four years in New York, two in Detroit before he was signed by the Arizona Cardinals before the start of the 2020 season.
Tre, however, has gone in a slightly different direction in terms of football compared to his father and other relatives. Kennard said he didn’t get the classic family genes, which include a build similar to an offensive and defensive lineman. Instead, Tre has found his niche at defensive back.
Kennard said he’s more athletic at 12 years old than him, Derek Sr. and Devon were at the same age.
“We were all athletic for our positions I’m sure. But I can assure you none of us were playing corner,” Kennard laughed. “To be able to coach my son’s team, it’s been so much fun. Just being able to be on the field with him and experience that, it’s a special thing.”
Kennard hopes to continue a strong regular season before he and the Jags head to Florida to represent the state at the 12U level. No matter the outcome, he looks forward to providing a unique experience for all of his players.
“My passion is the youth,” Kennard said. “Whether it’s high school or younger age. I’ve had these kids since 10U and just to install the basic fundamentals into them, so they are correctly taught going into whatever level they go to next, we want to send them away better than they came.
“We want to give the kids the chance to not only represent the state, but to experience some of that national talent out there.”
Donations to the Arizona Jaguars 12U trip to Florida can be made via Cash App using $AZJAGS, Venmo at @AZJAGS or via GoFundME at gf.me/u/y4tqy3. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.