HOFFMAN ESTATES, Ill. - The Hoffman Estates Redhawks, a Pop Warner football team made up mostly of at-risk youth, took a moment on Thursday to run some plays before their game Friday. If they win, they will be heading to the Pop Warner National Championships for the third year in a row.
"You have to put in the work, you have to stay in shape, you have to be at your best level you can be," said 13-year-old Anthony Hernandez, Redhawks defensive end.
Hernandez is a defensive end on the Redhawks. This is his fifth season on the team.
"We have a good work ethic and it's a bunch of team building," said quarterback Ryan Smith, who is also on his fifth season with the Redhawks. "It's like a family almost."
Being on the Redhawks has helped many players improve their performance in the classroom as well as on the field, where they are building a legacy as a winning team.
"They're a great group of kids, they really work hard, they're well-disciplined, they listen to their coaches," said Mark Mueller, president of Chicagoland Pop Warner League.
Mueller, who is also head of community relations at the Hoffman Estates Police Department, said many of the Redhawks are at-risk children who have forged tight bonds with their teammates.
"These boys work so hard together and the really awesome thing that we as moms talk about is how they really are friends on and off the field," said Carol Hominac, one player's mother.
If the Redhawks win the regional championship game on Friday, they will move on to the national championship next week at Disney World. This year would be their third year making it that far.
"No team has ever won a three-peat in Pop Warner, ever," said Mueller.
The Redhawks became national champions in 2014 and 2015, and they hope to keep the winning streak going. But it's no small task sending 24 players and six coaches to Florida, a total of $30,000 to pay for everyone's lodging and food.
The team is hoping the community will rally around them and held raise the funds, an effort they will start in earnest after Friday's regional game.