For the second time in three years, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will have area representatives lacing it up in the NFL Punt, Pass and Kick National Finals. The competition will take place on Saturday, January 14 in Baltimore during the weekend of the AFC Divisional Playoff Game.
Valentina Estrada, 12, from Tarpon Springs, and Madison Shelquist, 15, from Tampa, will don the Buccaneers colors as two of 40 young football players from around the country who will compete in this year's PPK National Finals.
The NFL Punt, Pass and Kick program began in 1961 and is celebrating its 50th Anniversary. It is the nation's largest grassroots sports skills competition.
A special on-field award presentation will broadcast on CBS after the third quarter of the Baltimore Ravens-Houston Texans game, which airs on Sunday, January 15. Kickoff is at 1:00 p.m. ET.
Estrada is fine-tuning her skills for the competition by practicing her punting and passing, as she uses soccer experience to hopefully gain an edge in the Girls 12-13 division.
"They're just my strongest [skills] because I play soccer, so the punt really comes in handy because I'm a keeper in soccer," Estrada said. "So punting the soccer ball is like the same thing with the football. It is pretty amazing that I get to go to Baltimore. I feel really special to have this opportunity, and I feel really proud of myself that I get to go this far."
Shelquist, who is competing in the Girls 14-15 division, has participated in the NFL Flag program since she was eight. NFL Flag offers boys and girls ages 5-17 the chance to learn valuable life skills through the sport of football. Shelquist is looking forward to competing this weekend, as she hopes her experiences in the co-ed flag football league will help her claim the title in Baltimore.
"I'm really nervous and excited because it is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," Shelquist said. "It would be really cool to be called 'National Champion.' I'll do my best and see if I can win."
All 40 youngsters advanced to the National Finals through local, sectional and team championship competitions held throughout the NFL regular season. Both girls qualified as one of the top four scorers in both their age groups from around the country. In Tampa, Estrada and Shelquist earned their spots through various local competitions, culminating in the team championship at Raymond James Stadium on December 17, when the Buccaneers hosted the Dallas Cowboys.
Estrada and Shelquist are just two examples of the thousands of boys and girls from around the country who competed in the NFL Punt, Pass and Kick program this year. Finalists will compete separately in five age divisions, with the top scorer in each group crowned national champion. All participants launch one punt, one pass and one kick, with scores based on distance and accuracy.
Two years ago, Matthew Doran, then a 13-year old from West Melbourne, Florida, traveled to San Diego to represent the Buccaneers in the 2009 NFL Punt, Pass and Kick National Finals. The competition, which took place prior to the AFC Divisional Playoff Game between the New York Jets and San Diego Chargers, pitted Doran against some of the other top youngsters in the country. Doran, perhaps inspired by former Punt, Pass and Kick participants Josh Freeman and Earnest Graham, walked away with the championship title.
Regardless of this weekend's results, both Estrada and Shelquist will benefit from taking part in the national competition.
"The NFL Punt, Pass and Kick program gives girls and boys around the country a way to stay healthy and active and to learn the basic skills of football," said NFL Senior Vice President of Events Frank Supovitz. "We are pleased to see so many of our young fans learning about football through this program."
All participants and their guest are provided airfare, hotel and tickets to the AFC Divisional Playoff Game. NFL Punt, Pass and Kick is part of NFL Youth Football, which provides ways for children to play, watch and experience the game of football. For more information, visit www.NFLPPK.com. For other NFL PLAY 60 youth programs, visit www.NFLRUSH.com.