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‘You gotta earn it’

Short of players at first, Delran AA football team takes championship

The Delran AA 75-pound football team poses for a photo after winning the championship this year. The team began with only four players in a sport that requires 11 on the field at one time.

Inspiration is defined as “the process of being mentally stimulated to do or feel something, especially to do something creative,” according to Oxford Languages. 

Create all possible scenarios and place them in a hat and you couldn’t draw out the recent accomplishments of 14 young football players and their five coaches. In a tough offseason that began in July, Delran native Dan Gillis faced an obstacle: He had four roster spots – one of which belonged to his son Aden – in a sport that requires 11 players on the field at one time. 

He needed to fill that roster before the regular season kicked off in early September.

“We started off with four players and I just went around town and started asking moms,  and they all put it together somehow,” Gillis recalled. “I was at Delran Night spreading the word. Me and the other coaches, just trying to get a team together, and we turned it up.”

Gillis was assisted by four other men who helped him with coaching duties that included    recruiting eight players; teaching them to play multiple positions on offense, defense and special teams; and instructing them on what it takes to be a champion.

“It was a super cool season,” Gillis said. “Nothing like it – unexplainable. The group of parents we had together made it like a family. It was all great; we had a great time.” 

Gillis gives a lot of credit to Delran AA sports commissioner Tony Waspi, who has done so much for kids in his one year in that role.

“Phenomenal, phenomenal job at everything he does for these kids,” Gillis noted. “He made all these games extra special with buying a tunnel for the kids, playing music, fireworks, smoke going off, making sure we do the national anthem before our games like a real NFL game,   and because he knows I served.” 

Once the team was full, the real suspense built as the team mustered an 8-1-1 record and won the championship from the 75-pound football squad of Ewing, Mercer County, a town that more than doubles Delran in population and size.

There was one motto that Gillis repeated constantly to his resilient bunch: “You gotta earn it,” 

What started on the gridiron as a group of four players – including one who had previously played football – became 12, with five coaches determined to win it all. In a tale of camaraderie, family, friendship, team dinners and a whole lot of football, the 75-pounders on the Delran AA team stole the show and showcased their winning status atop a fire truck that rode through town with sirens blaring.

Next is a trophy ceremony, where young boys turned men will go down in Delran AA history.


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