Former Oak Ridge football coach Chris Jones feels the best way for young players to pick up the sport is to make sure they have a good experience learning the game’s basics.
Jones, now the Vista del Lago varsity coach, and Mark Watson, who served as Trojan head football coach from 1989-1999, held their third annual West Coast Youth Football Full Contact Camp last Wednesday through Friday at Oak Ridge High School.
The camp attracted more than 180 players, ages 6 to 14, up from 170 in 2011 and 130 in 2010, according to Watson. Students learned the basic concepts of tackling with classes split into groups based on age, weight and ability.
“The key for the whole thing for us is trying to get those kids matched up against kids of similar ability so that they have that opportunity to be able to demonstrate that,” Jones said. “We’re trying to create a good competitive balance.”
Most of the players were from the El Dorado Hills Jr. Trojans youth football program. There were also attendees from the Shingle Springs and Placerville areas as well as Folsom, Del Oro, Stockton, Napa and Reno, Nev., youth football programs.
“We have kids from different programs,” Jones said. “We’re just trying to teach some fundamental concepts for each position.”
Watson said about 50 percent of the players participating in the camp strapped on shoulder pads and helmets for the first time in their lives.
“If we can facilitate the proper match-ups that’s going to help us out,” Jones said. “We want it to be a good experience for all the kids. Hopefully the kid who’s never played before that is going out for youth football, with the six practices over the three days, will feel more prepared and more comfortable when they go into their tryout. That’s our goal.”
Vince Mini, 10, of El Dorado Hills was one of the first-timers. He plans to go out for the Jr. Trojans junior Pee Wee squad.
“I love it,” Mini said. “It’s fun. The contact is amazing. It’s a challenge for someone who hasn’t done it before.”
Mini admitted he enjoyed the aspect of hitting but had to adjust to being tackled. At the camp he played fullback and wide receiver on offense, and said he really enjoyed playing free safety on defense.
Ryan Hicks, 12, of Folsom has taken part in all of the football camps at Oak Ridge High. This season he’ll play in the Vista del Lago Jr. Eagles football program.
“This camp has been going really well,” Hicks said.
A quarterback, the camp has prepared Hicks for the hits he’ll face in the upcoming season on the Jr. Eagles’ junior midget squad.
“It’s also given me the timing and the throwing ability with pads,” Hicks said.
The staffs from Oak Ridge and Vista del Lago, along with some varsity Trojans players, served as coaches for the full-contact camp.
In Wednesday’s first practice the players started with tackling bags. Then they progressed to tackling a live person.
“What we’re trying to do at the end of the first practice is we want everyone to tackle and feel comfortable tackling,” Jones said. “By the end of tonight (Wednesday) will be a full-fledge tackle. We feel comfortable everyone will know how to properly tackle. We’re trying to create a good competitive balance.”
Watson, who still teaches at Oak Ridge, said the growth of the Jr. Trojans’ program and developing youths wanting to play football before entering high school were the reasons to start the camp.
“Three years ago we saw a need for a contact camp,” he explained. “Focus and concentration was learning how to block and tackle — the key aspects of football. It’s a great opportunity for them to check it out. I think for the parents to watch their son and say ‘hey, he’s ready.’ In three days you can tell quite a bit.”
Eric Cavaliere, who enters his sixth season as the Trojans’ head coach, agrees that it’s all about progression for the young players.
“We’re not out here on the first day trying to do something that a kid is not ready for,” Cavaliere said.
All the coaches also agree that having nearly 200 players out for the three-day camp is exciting.
“It’s always a good sign,” Cavaliere said. “To see almost 200 kids able to be organized and move efficiently and get their drill work done. To me, it’s just impressive to watch.”
Watson added, “We’re really pleased. I think that it’s a unique camp, the way we structure it. Four to five coaches at most stations, including student-coaches from Oak Ridge. I think they (players) are really getting a lot of attention.”