BY NOAH GRIFFITH
FOR THE OBSERVER
In the first year of the East Alabama Jaguars youth travel football league, two of its players are already moving onto the national stage.
In 2020, Opelika’s Skylan Holstick went to Mexico to play for Team USA at age 12, garnering national attention. Now, his younger brother, Jonah Eaton, and his Jaguars teammate, Karter Blackmon, will get a head start at age 8.
This June, Jonah, son of Jaguars President Tianna Summers, and Karter will hop on a plane to Monterey to play Mexico’s National 8U team.
In addition to Skylan, Jonah is Summers’ second son to play for Team USA, so she is familiar with the benefits the boys will reap from getting to travel out of the country to play the game they love.
“It feels good to get an early start because I feel like when my son Skylan went [to Mexico] it really put him on the map,” Summers said. “When you Google his name, all this pops up, and you don’t find too many kids who come up when you type in their name. So, I feel like he really gained a lot of exposure. … It gives [Jonah and Karter] a chance to see what they got to look forward to.”
The boys are going to familiar territory, too. Jonah and Karter accompanied Skylan to Mexico three years ago, but that was just the start of a football journey for them. When they put on a helmet for the first time at 6 years old, they both fall in love with the physicality of the game.
“Hitting [is my favorite part of playing football],” Karter said. “I love being on defense.”
Also, Jonah has tagged along on his brother’s visits to colleges such as the University of North Carolina and the University of Texas, as well as camps in Las Vegas, Nevada and several other states across the country.
While this might sound like another day in the life for them, there are many firsts happening — starting when they lift off the ground. When Skylan went to play in Mexico three years ago, they drove.
Jaguars Vice President Nellie Torbert, Karter’s mom, said this trip will help prepare the boys for school ball and serve as a big social stepping stone early in their journeys. The boys will experience a lot of cultural diversity by seeing a team with another playing style and values, participating in three practices alongside them and spending five days in the heart of Monterey.
There will be many lessons learned, but the trip serves as a reward for the hard work the children have put in, according to Summers. In the Jaguars’ first year of existence, they made it to the second round of the playoffs.
Jonah already knows exactly what reward he wants.
“As long as there’s food, I’m happy,” he said with a smile on his face.
He is ready for some tacos, and Karter said he is excited to hop on a plane for the first time in his life — although his mom does not reciprocate those feelings. Torbert said she prefers her feet to be on the ground.
In the end, this is an experience that will likely help put Opelika on the map and be an experience for two young ballplayers to grow on. Just like Torbert on the plane, the boys will have to adapt to a new situation.
“It shows more than this area of football; it broadens the horizon,” Torbert said. “I think it puts them ahead of the game.”