GC flag football team Uncles With Benefits won the flag football national championship this year in a thriller over South Texas.
Down by 7 with time running out, U.W.B. marched down the field and scored. In lieu of a safe 1 point conversion, U.W.B. gambled and went for 2 with the game on the line.
That moment loomed large for everyone, but for a few, it carried the weight of years of striving towards the top of the mountain.
Recent graduate and quarterback Mitch Risley had been to the national tournament three times prior and came up empty-handed. The team’s gritty knack for making plays in key moments swung the pendulum in their favor where it had not in previous years.
“We made a lot of plays at the right moments,” Risley said.
When it came time for Risley’s biggest moment yet, he didn’t flinch.
Rolling out to his left with a rusher in his face, Risley floated a pass to his receiver Chapin Rierson in the end zone.
Risley threw his hands up to signal touchdown as soon as the ball left his hand.
His play earned him the MVP of the national tournament, which he quickly shrugged off and reiterated it meant he had good teammates around him and meant nothing without the championship victory.
There is no Kyle Shanahan-esque braintrust calling plays on the sideline, no freak-of-nature athletes taking the field and no arsenal of complicated routes taken from Madden difficult mode.
In an arena where conventional wisdom says speed and strength prevail, U.W.B armed themselves with chemistry and intelligence.
“For the most part, it’s understanding that our team isn’t the most athletic,” said Josh Hammond, sophomore quarterback and receiver. “We play guys that are faster than us, jump higher than us and are quicker than us, so it’s more about sticking to the system we have because that can win us games.”
Only a handful of players on U.W.B. had played together prior to this season, so that chemistry did not form overnight. Initially, egos needed to be quelled and players had to buy into the team mindset.
“We faced struggles during the regular season and almost lost to Delta Sig in the playoffs,” Hammond said. “There are some big egos on our team and learning to mesh those together was a challenge.”
Hammond will likely face a similar challenge next season as U.W.B. graduates a handful of key players including Risley and all-American rusher Michael Lahood.
When searching for talent to join the team, Hammond probably will not patrol the intramural fields but the basketball courts. Both he and Risley never played football in high school — they played basketball.
“To me, the best flag football players are always basketball players,” Risley said. “Flag football is pretty similar to basketball. A lot of football players get out there and think it’s just like football, but it’s really not. It’s more basketball strategy type of game.”
It makes sense that Risley and Hammond would each translate from basketball to flag so well. Both point guards and quarterbacks need to command an offense, make quick, smart decisions and distribute the ball to their playmakers.
“I think it translates so well because flag is such a quick sport and you don’t really need a lot of size because you’re not really blocking anybody or overpowering anybody,” Hammond said. “It comes down to being quick and agile which I think guards in basketball possess the best.”
Whoever takes the field with Hammond next year for the new iteration of U.W.B., they will likely still dominate but under a few different circumstances.
“My team next year will not be called Uncles with Benefits and we will not wear bright pink jerseys,” Hammond said.