It began in 2015 as merely a method for getting 7-year-olds outside to run off some of their youthful energy. Seven years later it has them headed to see how they stack up against the best the nation has to offer.
The Everett Elite Flag Football boys 14-under team travels to Las Vegas this weekend to participate in the NFL FLAG Bowl, which serves as a flag football national championship. And this is the rare occasion in which the bulk of a recreational youth team sticks together for the better part of a decade.
“It’s cool,” quarterback Lavanta McMillan, a sophomore at Mariner High School and an original team member, said about going to the FLAG Bowl. “We’ve been training the whole time for this. This is my last year playing (14U is the oldest division), so it’ll be fun to go there.”
Everett Elite, which was a Mukilteo Boys and Girls Club team before rebranding itself in 2018 and remains affiliated with the Mukilteo Boys and Girls Club, earned its spot at the FLAG Bowl by winning its division at the NFL FLAG Open Seattle on Oct. 30 in Tacoma. The team, which is comprised of seven players from Mukilteo, Everett and Lake Stevens, goes up against seven other regional champions on Friday and Saturday as part of the Pro Bowl program.
“It’s nice because you don’t ever look at this as something you’d take seriously from the get-go,” said receiver Jacob Hiatt II, who’s also a sophomore at Mariner and an original team member. “You always think, ‘This is just my entryway into tackle.’ Looking at it you’re just like, ‘Wow, it got me a free trip to Vegas, I’m competing against the best of the best.’ It’s nice.”
NFL FLAG rules are that the game is played five-on-five on a field that’s 70 yards long and 30 yards wide. Every player wears a belt that has a flag hanging from each hip, with a pull of the flag constituting a tackle. On offense, the quarterback is not allowed to run the ball and there is no blocking. On defense a blitzer is allowed to rush the quarterback from the snap, but must begin seven yards off the line of scrimmage. A team has four downs to achieve a first down by reaching midfield, then three downs to score. After scoring a touchdown, a team can go for a one-point conversion with a play from scrimmage from the 5-yard line, or a two-point conversion with a play from the 10.
Four of Everett Elite’s seven players were effectively original members: McMillan, Hiatt II and receivers Tristan Lolohea and Julian Wilson. Receivers Jameson Malysheff and Keagan Howard were recruited by team members in recent years, while back-up quarterback Noah Erhart was brought up from Everett Elite’s 13U team.
So this team has plenty of familiarity with one another.
“We started as just a typical flag roster would,” coach Jacob Hiatt said. “My son was on the very first team, so I kind of stepped up to coach the team because I’m a big football guy. It went pretty well at the beginning, and year after year we’d just have the same kids sign up. Eventually after about two years we started getting a little more serious, meeting in the summertime and going to tournaments. It became more of a family at that point and the kids had made friends with each other, so they kept coming back.”
“It’s honoring,” Wilson, a ninth grader at Cavelero Mid High School, said about being on a team that’s stuck together this long. “I never really had people stay that long in their teams, so it’s cool.”
The team lost just one game its first year, then after experiencing some bumps in the road in its second season it’s been dominant ever since. This season Everett Elite is undefeated at 20-0, and when Hiatt put together a practice game against a team made up of players from the two other best teams in Snohomish County, Everett Elite won 53-6.
Why has the team been so successful? It begins with having great athletes, as Everett Elite’s team consists of multi-sport athletes who are involved in some kind of sport year-round. But beyond that, the fact the team has been intact for so long has helped.
“I think (the reason for the team’s success) is our chemistry,” said Erhart, an eighth grader at Olympic View Middle School. “It’s pretty high, so it allows us to have a connection with each other. And we just have good talent, the talent is good on this team.”
The Everett Elite players are at an age where they’re able to play tackle football. Wilson, Lolohea and Howard play tackle, but the other four don’t. McMillan and Malysheff both prioritize basketball, while Hiatt II tried tackle and preferred flag.
“It feels more like (flag) comes down to one-on-one ability when it comes to routes and movement,” Hiatt II said. “It’s not that I don’t like tackle, I was just never good at it. Otherwise I would have stuck with it.”
How will Everett Elite fare on the national stage? Trying to gauge how a team stacks up against an opponent it’s never seen before is impossible, and some of Everett Elite’s competition has been to the FLAG Bowl before and therefore has an edge in experience. But Everett Elite has also been scouting its opponents by mining the internet for highlights.
“I think we can put up a show,” said Lolohea, a freshman at Archbishop Murphy. “We’ll just be the best we can, and then show everybody who we are — and have fun.”