Welcome to Why We Play, a series of discussions with current players and NFL Legends about their youth football experience and why they play the game. It’s part of the NFL’s PlayFootball.com.
As a youth football coach, Mike Mamula tries to instill the same lessons he learned when he started playing in 1981.
“What I tried to get across to the kids on the team was pretty simple,” he said. “It was just the basic stuff that kids that age need to hear and need to realize. Mainly just how important it is to be on a team and be part of a team.”
Mamula played in the “Little Loop’’ League in Lackawanna, NY, just a few miles south of Buffalo. He said the Little Loop League taught him more than just blocking and tackling, but also some important life lessons.
“What was important to me was the commitment,” he said. “Playing in a league like that gave us some structure. We had to be somewhere at a certain time and a certain day. And it also prevented us from doing something bad, being in the wrong place. To me, it was a good thing to be part of an organized sport.”
Mamula went from his youth league to star at Lackawanna High School as a defensive end. He earned a scholarship to Boston College, where he was an All-Big East contributor in 1994 and racked up 17 sacks as a senior.
Mamula was selected seventh overall pick in the 1995 NFL Draft by the Philadelphia Eagles.
In a six-year career cut short by injuries, Mamula accumulated 31.5 sacks, 209 tackles, and eight forced fumbles in 77 games, all for the Eagles. In 1999, he returned his only career interception for a touchdown against Kurt Warner and the St. Louis Rams.
After retiring following the 2000 season, Mamula got into coaching in 2008 when his son Milton started playing. The elder Mamula coached youth league coach in Wayne, PA, first for St. Catherine’s and then later for the Conestoga Generals.
Milton went on to play on defensive line and outside linebacker, just like his father. Milton played college football at Montana.
Reflecting on coaching those youth teams, Mamula said that the most important thing he tried to establish was the value of teamwork and working together.
“What I think is most important, along with learning the fundamentals of the game, is the camaraderie,” Mamula said. “Just being able to hash out different personalty types, both of the kids and coaches.”