Chicago Bears & DJ Moore Bring 'Mini Monsters' To Manchester

By Simon Carroll

It’s Monday morning in Manchester. And in classic Mancunian fashion, the suggestion of rain is threatening to upset me. Perhaps my determination to wear a t-shirt and sunglasses jinxed the weather in some way – but it’s certainly not dampening the spirits of a large group of children, all descending on the impressive MMU training complex. Bus after bus of schools arrive to be a part of a growing phenomenon in the UK – the introduction of flag football, a non-contact version of our beloved sport.

Last week, it was the Jacksonville Jaguars and ‘Jag Tag’ in this part of the country. This week, the Chicago Bears have brought ‘Mini Monsters’ to the North West. It’s a growing trend of NFL franchises looking to develop football from a grassroots level, whilst also increasing their exposure in one of the biggest markets for the sport outside of the US.

International Growth

Former Bears Tight End Kaseem Sinceno

Hosted by Gustavo Silva – the Bears’ Manager of Youth Football and Community Programs – Mini Monsters has grown to become a regular fixture across schools and youth organisations in the USA. And it has proven so popular, it has been branching out for some time. Former Bears tight end Kaseem Sinceno was on hand to help the children run through a variety of drills, and he was excited to tell me how he got involved in the project:

“I’ve been doing this for a few years now. I joined Mini Monsters back in 2017 at the inception of the program; met Gus in 2018, and we’ve been rolling out these sessions ever since. I really love it; we started off in the States, it got bigger and bigger and bigger, and about four years ago we started taking it to other countries. It’s becoming a big program and a great way to reach the kids.”

Gus and Kaseem have done an incredible job growing Mini Monsters – and according to Sinceno, the results are evident:

“I remember being here in Manchester a couple of years ago. Coming back now, the numbers have increased tremendously. Now in our fourth year, there are so many more schools involved. You can see that two things are happening; we’re doing a good job presenting the message, and schools in the UK are more focused now on American Football as a sport for their pupils to participate in.”

More Than Just Football

The cynical amongst you may think that NFL teams are putting on these events for their own benefit. And it’s hard to argue that exposing young children to the sport and the Chicago Bears isn’t good for future revenue streams – particularly as the franchise is one of those given marketing rights in this country. But witnessing the session firsthand, it’s immediately evident that Gus and Kaseem have other priorities. Mini Monsters, first and foremost, focuses on health and an active lifestyle. And despite having a current NFL superstar with them, Sinceno is keen to stress the all-round benefits of their trip to Manchester:

“At a young age, it’s great for kids to see people like DJ [Moore], who they see on TV on Sunday, come out here to talk to them and run drills with them. Hopefully it inspires them but also gets them more active – our message isn’t only about football, it’s about ‘Play 60’, about living healthy, putting good things into your body. It’s a good message overall, and we tie football into it and make it fun”

Play 60 has been at the forefront of the NFL’s drive for youth participation in the sport for more than 17 years now. The initiative has been the League’s national Youth Health and Wellness platform to empower children to get physically active for at least 60 minutes a day and encourage a healthy lifestyle. All 32 franchises promote it – and on this evidence, the Bears’ commitment to the cause is unwavering.

Moore In Manchester

Programs like Mini Monsters and Jag Tag are providing an introduction to young children globally to flag football, which in itself is a gateway to the full contact sport. Gus and Kaseem have a raft of helpers from youth flag football teams in the area to aid the children running the fun drills. Some of the participants know about the sport, others have no clue. All of them are having fun.

To add a splash of celebrity to the occasion, Bears wide receiver DJ Moore has joined the congregation on their trip across the pond. The last time Moore was in the UK, he was with the Carolina Panthers, slaying the Buccaneers defense with 7 catches for 70 yards at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. This time he’s making jokes with children who have no idea he recorded 1,364 yards receiving in his first season with the Bears last year. But with more exposure comes more interest – and Moore is keen to help participation in the game grow:

“Giving back to communities, getting kids involved in the sport and helping them get a passion for the sport, it’s important to me. I’ve had three camps already this offseason, and it’s great to now come over here and be a part of the ‘Mini Monsters’ program over here. It’s a thrill to see them running around, playing ball and having fun – like I did when I was a kid.”

The Start Of Something Special

Quiet, relaxed, and not so physically imposing as to make me think I still have a shot at a professional football career, DJ Moore is easy in every manner. Watching the kids run drills, we talk about his own introduction to the sport:

“I started off just like this. Me and my friends at a young young age, enjoying ourselves and embracing the sport. At first it was all about fun, but that’s what these types of opportunities can give to you – for me, it became more than that, started getting serious. I wanted to be the best, to win championships. That love stays with you, and you want to succeed at every level you step up to. For me, it became just football football football – and it all started like this.”

And there it is. Apart from talent, good looks, and millions of dollars in the bank, the difference between Moore and myself is he’s a winner, with an unparalleled drive to succeed. My dreams of NFL stardom once again brought back to reality, Moore reinforces the thought process here – whether you go on to play the sport more or not, these camps give value to everyone:

“These camps, these programs, what’s best about them is it’s not just about football. Some of these kids might not pick up a ball again after this. But what it does deliver is being outside, having fun with your friends, and helping stay healthy. Try something new, and keep active.”

Leaving A Legacy

The rain never quite comes, a relief to me but an irrelevance to the kids and indeed DJ Moore. We chat casually about the Bears’ upcoming season. He’s proud of how the team turned it around last year, his own performance, and assures me better things are coming. There’s a definite feeling that something is being built in Chicago – I mention the dangerous receiving trio of himself, Keenan Allen and rookie Rome Odunze, and Moore gives me a knowing smile. They’re planning to meet up with new QB Caleb Williams later this offseason and build some chemistry – if he surpasses his 2023 numbers, then this team will be in good shape.

But today is not about that. The Bears have built something else – a network of grassroots football that, on a grey Monday morning in Manchester, was a pleasure to be a part of. Football is growing from the ground up in this country, with some important key fundamentals at the heart of the message.

Activity. Health. Football. Coming to a school near you.

For any schools or parents wanting to know more about NFL Flag Football in the UK, please visit Information regarding the NFL’s ‘Play 60’ initiative can be found here.

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