The beginning of the 2010 school year at Salt River High School saw about 30 junior students trying out for the junior high Eagles football team, the highest number in the school’s history.
“We started off with about 30 and ended up with a little over 20 players, and they are a really young crowd,” said Junior High Coach Marc Hillis.
Many on the Junior Eagles team are just starting out in football; the team consists primarily of sixth-graders. The team has played three games so far and lost them all, “but with every game we are getting better,” explained Hillis.
“One of the things that is hurting us is that one of the quarterbacks was hit with ineligibility and our second quarterback was hurt in a game, so now we are on our third-string quarterback, plus we also lost two other players to injuries,” said Hillis.
Also, the coach said time is against them when they have to rely on the players getting their second wind in a game and starting to play better. The games are already 10 minutes per quarter. “Time flies by so quickly that before you know it, the game is over.”
Moving to the Next Level
Working with so many young players offers an opportunity to start with the fundamentals and coach the kids on to future success in high school. Hillis said that they spend every minute of every practice on getting the players ready to be better players. “They are coming along, and by next year they should be more experienced. The sixth-graders should be on top of their game by the time they enter the eighth grade.”
Currently the players are working on the basics of the game, the concepts of the games, and fundamentals such as tackling and blocking. “We are slowing trying to climb out of that,” said Hillis.
As for keeping players academically eligible for the team so they can participate in games, the school has all the players in study hall every day, which is mandatory for the students in the seventh and eighth grade. The sixth-graders have a different schedule and come in at a different time because they are still in elementary school.
The Eagles have a mentorship system in which some players on the high school Eagles football team work with the junior high players in individual groups.
“We also use comparisons from other junior high games that we played in [to evaluate the other] junior high teams on how well they played and what worked,” said Hillis.
Overall, the motivation and commitments have kicked in now, and the Junior Eagles have not had many players drop out as was the case in previous years, which is good for the team.
“In their practices we try to keep them together and on the right game, trying to keep them athletic and talking to them about playing other sports in the off season,” said Hillis. “A lot of them are already talking about continuing to play in sports and staying athletic.”
The Junior Eagles are keeping plays simple for now. “We have been sticking to our running game and working on that as well as our passing game,” said Hillis. “We have not done any trick plays or anything too fancy because of our young players, who need to understand the game. The team is starting to come along well and getting to know each other better, it is just inexperience that has the team at a loss; a lot [of players] have never played organized sports before.”
By next year, Hillis hopes, the team can start diversifying the plays and plan of attack as they get more experienced.