WILMINGTON — Most high school senior football players would likely agree that when the traditional Thanksgiving Day contest comes to a close, there is often a yearning to continue with the game that had consumed a better part of their lives. Aside from the uncommon college recruit, football comes to an abrupt conclusion for most.
It doesn’t have to be that way thanks to the efforts of Wilmington’s Zachary Swale and the Mill City Eagles, who are part of a regional semi-professional football league which competes during the summer months and plays their games at assorted high school and college stadiums.
According to Swale, the New England Football League, which was established more than twenty-five years ago, provides an exceptional opportunity for these athletes to refine their craft and in some instances, land a berth with a collegiate program.
“Unlike some of the states in the south, there are a limited number of junior colleges in this area,” said Swale, who relocated to Wilmington several years ago with his fiancée Kelly. “We’ve had guys who were written off in high school because of lower GPAs or issues at home. They played a few games with us, showcased their talents on film, and were ultimately accepted to a college team. We help fill a gap and provide an outlet for these guys.”
According to Swale, the NEFL, which requires athletes to be eighteen or older, represents nearly forty teams scattered throughout the six-state region.
“Due to recent upgrades, the League has improved measurably,” explained Swale, who grew up in Taunton and played his high school football with Bristol-Plymouth Vocational Tech. “Our teams are broken down into three levels based on experience – Single-A, Double-A, and Triple-A. I most recently played for the Triple-A Mill City Eagles out of Chelmsford.”
In high school, Swale played stints as a fullback, linebacker, defensive end, and cornerback. After graduating, he fulfilled a desire to continue with the sport in some capacity by competing with an organized flag football league.
After four years, he was introduced to semi-pro football and joined the ranks of the Bay State Bucs out of Brockton. He later retuned to school and just recently, earned a degree from Southern New Hampshire University in sports management.
“Along with football, I’ve done a lot of coaching over the years and would like to pursue a career in a sports capacity,” said Swale, who runs the facility maintenance at a school in Dover, Mass.
Swale is currently with the Mill City Eagles organization, based in Chelmsford. The team, which is one of thirteen Triple-A level programs in the NEFL, has an equal mix of post-high school and post-collegiate participants.
The Eagles, according to Swale, represent the youngest team in the League. He stepped down as a player this year and has assumed dual roles as coach and General Manager, working closely with four-year team owner/head coach Josh Porter of Dracut.
“The Mill City Eagles team was established as part of the League thirteen years ago,” he said. “We were previously called the Southern New Hampshire Beavers but changed the name to better fit our surroundings. This team takes great pride in hard work, community, and family.”
Swale, 32, recently posted a notice on a Wilmington community site seeking to generate interest in the New England Football League and specifically, the Mill City Eagles.
“The goal was to target Greater Lowell and Merrimac Valley, he said. “I noticed that the Burlington, Tewksbury, and Wilmington area has produced a great deal of football talent. One of the players to join the Eagles years ago was Shawn Surrette, who played his high school ball with Wilmington. He wanted to keep playing but went to UMass Lowell, which didn’t have a football team. He has been one of our better players for several years.”
The Mill City team is self-funded via player dues coupled with fundraising efforts. Swale says the organization keeps the dues as low as possible because many of the athletes are just starting out. In time, they’d like to host youth football camps which will bring in more revenue and increase exposure.
“I’ve met a lot of good people since arriving in Wilmington and I like the community spirit here,” said Swale. “We’re very proud of our organization and hold our players to the highest standards. I’m hoping I can interest others from Wilmington and the surrounding communities to take a look at our team.”
For those interested in the New England Football League and the Mill City Eagles, visit https://m.facebook.com/MillCityEagles/.