A few years back, when he was the president of the Naples Gators youth football league, Steve Quinn wondered how the sport may change for the better.
After taking an executive position with Football University, a national youth training organization, in 2009, Quinn has seen firsthand what other youth leagues are doing around the country. He is trying to bring those ideas to Southwest Florida.
Three area youth programs, including the Naples Gators, recently combined to form the Southwest Florida Youth Football League powered by FBU. The league will be independent, and for teams like the Gators, a move away from Pop Warner.
Besides the Gators, the Naples Pirates and Marco Island Eagles are on board, as are two Lee County programs, the Lee County Hawks out of Cape Coral, and the Dunbar Tigers from Fort Myers.
The Gators had played in the Peace River Conference along with the Naples Bears, Naples Hurricanes, Immokalee Seminoles, and others from Southwest Florida counties.
The SWFYFL also will create two new teams: the Golden Gate Tigers and the North Naples Lions.
Three things will make SWFYFL, which will have five age divisions, distinct from other area youth leagues, according to Quinn. One is a unified playoff system for all area teams and organizations, where age division champions move on to a national tournament.
"When I was running Naples Gators, I always had a vision to try and unify youth football in Collier County," Quinn said. "I didn't know how to go about it. But I saw things on the national stage. I wanted to use all ideas I gathered over those two years."
Another difference is unrestricted weight football. Whereas many youth leagues determine a players level by weight, SWFYFL will go by age only — players ages 5 to 15 are eligible.
"In Florida, we always had the idea you had to play weight-restricted ball," Quinn said. "We're not fostering the offensive and defensive linemen and the kids that come to us who are bigger, that are skill position players, we put them on the offensive and defensive lines."
"Unrestricted weight is the way to go."
The new league eventually hopes to build itself into a feeder program for local high schools, the idea being each team's player-pool zone will be zoned as the high schools are.
"I knew the hard thing would be to convince the other youth leagues," Quinn said. "We started to pitch the idea what we wanted to do.
"We first approached all high schools and looked for their support. Our goal is to build a feeder system that would feed the high schools. I got the buy-in from a lot of high school coaches."
With FBU's backing, Quinn feels the league can make an impact on the area over the next few years.
"Eventually, Football University wants to become a national youth brand," he said. "We really feel we have so much more to give. With this we're starting a pilot program and use Football University for all the resources they have, such as coaching and players clinics.
"Anytime kids are playing football, it's a great thing. But we think, because of our resources, because of what we have with the NFL coaches and the all-star events, we'll be able to bring a different brand of football to kids on Collier and Lee counties."
The SWFYFL is planning a two-game spring season on May 11 and 18. For more information, visit www.swflyouthfootball.com.