During the first real hot spell of this summer 170 young football players, ages 6-14, took the field at Oak Ridge High School for three days of conditioning, drills, practice and scrimmages.
And despite the heat — which can be intense on the 2-year-old synthetic turf fields — the campers never lost their enthusiasm and enjoyed every minute of the workouts.
The word is out.
This was just the second year of the West Coast Youth Football Full Contact Camp, and enrollment was up from 136 in 2010 to 170 in 2011. Players from Ukiah, Reno, Jackson, Placerville, Loomis, Ione, Woodland, Shingle Springs, El Dorado Hills and Folsom lined up in their respective groups of 20-22 for two afternoon/evening workouts in full pads, uniforms and helmets.
With eight coaches and 26 players from Oak Ridge and Vista del Lago, each group had a coach and three or four assistants working with the youngsters.
“It’s a good ratio.” said Mark Watson, the co-founder of WCYF. “We teach progressively each day. At the end of day one the kids are tackling one-on-one. We work on defense the first day and progress to offense on the second.
“On day two we have the kids going three-on-three and then 11-on-11 on day three with actual scrimmages.”
Watson is currently an assistant coach at Oak Ridge, having stepped down from the head coach position in 1998 following a 13-0 season and winning the Sac-Joaquin Section championship.
“He wanted to spend more time with me and he coached some of my teams,” said his daughter Megan, who graduated from Oak Ridge this year. Along with playing softball, Megan was the Trojan football team’s stat girl for four years and is her dad’s secretary for West Coast Youth Football.
Mark has more than 35 years coaching experience with one year at USC, seven at Long Beach State and the rest at Oak Ridge where he led the Trojans to an 89-28 overall record with three top 10 rankings in California. He was named Coach of the Year in 1996.
When Mark stepped down, he handed the team over to Chris Jones, who played for him on the varsity team in 1989-91. Jones, now the head coach at Vista del Lago, won three section titles and compiled a 66-19 record during his time at Oak Ridge.
Jones, the co-founder of WCYF, has 14 years of varsity experience, 10 at Oak Ridge. He was given the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame Distinguished Coach Award in 2004 and is a guest speaker at clinics in San Francisco, Seattle, Long Beach and Reno.
In 1998 Mark started the Jr. Trojans, a non-contact youth football camp, and helped establish the Jr. Trojans Football and Cheer program in 2000.
But Jones and Mark, who are close friends, saw a need for full contact instruction and spent a lot of time developing the camp’s focus, format and goals. Judging from the response, it is proving very successful.
“This is my second year and it’s awesome,” said 10-year-old EJ Delwiche, who attends Silva Valley Elementary.
Mark, Jones and Eric Cavaliere, the current head coach at Oak Ridge who is also part of the program, have developed 23 Division I scholarship players. Cavaliere has 14 years of varsity experience and has led the Trojans to four playoff berths and two league championhips in four years.
The 2011 campers worked out from 4:30 to 6:15 p.m. with frequent water breaks. After stretching and warm-ups, they practiced basic tackling drills and learned plays. A half-hour break for lunch/dinner was followed by more of the same from 6:45 to 8:30.
On Tuesday and Wednesday, the two hottest days, the sprinklers were turned on during the break for a nice cool down and some fun.
While Mark’s wife Beth and daughter Megan took care of the details behind-the-scenes, volunteer moms worked the snack bar table and Oak Ridge senior Jessica Wilmer maintained her vigil of the field in her fourth year as the trainer, ready for any injuries and making sure the campers all stayed hydrated.
Six-year-old Anthony Ramirez was anxious to get back on the field after a water break but paused long enough to say, “It’s good but not too hard. I like tackling the blocks best of all.”
Rolling Hills’ Carson Starr agreed with Delwiche. “I’ve been to a lot of camps but this one is the most awesome,” he said.
Quarterbacks who have played for the Trojan program and gone on to play in college include Chandler Clemons, Shane Steichen, Sean Steichen, Jeff Gallagher, Sam Clemons and Jon Deville.
An Advanced Passing School for players entering grades 3 through 9, will be held Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, July 11-13, from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m., at Oak Ridge. The fee is $125.