Kyle Mack getting ahold of the shirt of Devonte Watley in a tackling drill of a recent Wildcats Junior Football practice. Coach Joel Gaither, in red shirt, watching the play.
SLIDESHOW: West Seattle Juniors ready to roll; Football season brings lots of expectations
Jamboree is set for Aug. 23
By Ed Shepherd
It's time !
Time for players to slap on the shoulder pads, throw on the jersey, fit on the helmet and lace up the cleats. It's time for West Seattle Wildcats Junior League football.
Only practices so far, as the jamboree is still to come on Saturday Aug. 23, but these players for the six divisions, from the six and seven year old youngest level, 76ers, to the oldest, 14 year old Seniors, are making the most of practice time right now.
And coaches are ready,too, prepared well to take on this task, having to spend time before practice even begins -- in early August -- learning how to coach in the junior football league.
"Coaches have to take the USA Heads Up Football online testing, learning things like hydration, equipment fitting, proper tackling, and also receive certification from a coaches clinic that takes a half-day, too," said Joel Gaither, who coaches the Bantams and Juniors, 10 to 13 year olds, for those two divisions.
Four of the six divisions made it to the playoffs last season, so, that's a good number for the Wildcats. And the Pee-Wees won their division, and the 76ers took second.
Last year's coach of the 76ers, Will Carter, is moving up to the 89ers level, one division below the Pee-Wees, whose coach, Travis Sandvik, isn't coaching a team this time around.
Coach Carter of the 89ers expects time to tell more, with the jamboree explaining things, but he's mapped himself a pretty good visual inside his head for how success can happen again this season.
And the road to the championship starts with the most talked about position in football, quarterback, where he's got not one, not two, but three QBs he's feeling can lead this team.
"We have a few core players, we like to watch them grow," said Carter.
He mentioned the QBs as main components, naming, first off the list, Elijah Jackson, the starting quarterback of last year's 76er championship runner-up team. He scored 21 touchdowns for that team, which lost 14-0 to Mountlake Terrace, north of Seattle, in the title game.
"He's a scrambler, and a left-hander," said Carter. "He's only eight years old, and it's rare to have a quarterback that age but his experience and success as a 76er show he can do it."
Then Carter mentioned another player on the team playing quarterback, being 9-year-old Tennessee Rainwater.
"He's pure, flat-out fast, can run right through the middle," said Carter. "I've coached for 19 years and not seen anything like him. He's just pure talent and athleticism."
So that combination bodes well for the 89ers and the Wildcats program as does the third QB mentioned by Carter, and that's Kayden Bodine.
"He's a heady football player," said Carter.
Carter mentioned those three as well as Baye Rise Jr. and Andres Navas on the offense like running backs and wide receivers along with the captains, who will glue things nicely, being Bodine, Patrick Galvin, Isaiah Jacroux, and the team's center, Javier Garcia, who will be blowing holes up the middle with his blocking.
"We have a good mix of talent," said Carter.
The Seniors division looks ripe and ready for a good season, too.
It's got enthusiastic coaching from Leonard Hicks III, along with co-coaches Fareed Hunt and Chris Arsenal, and also West Seattle High School's quarterback, Joey Kane, helps out.
Playing quarterback this season for the Seniors is Cyrus Storlie. It's his first season at the all-important position, but he's been doing his homework and looks like it's about time for him to shine there.
"I've worked a lot in the offseason on leadership, strength/conditioning, throwing and got a lot of books on how to play quarterback."
Coach Hicks III likes Storlie and he's not the only one.
"He's a special guy," said Hicks III. "He's a leader. All the kids like him. He works with the kids on his own time. He has a good arm and we are working on his footwork."
Kane's a good help for Storlie, and also has been a good help the past three seasons for all of the offense, according to Hicks III.
"He's helped me with drop-backs, the finer things," said Storlie.
Players that Hicks III mentioned whom Storlie played football scrimmages with in the off-season included Colin Roman, Dylan Digdom and Jeff Centiolle, all three receivers for Storlie to throw to this season.
"That was our Sunday thing," said Storlie.
Hicks III also said his son, Leonard Hicks IV, comes out and helps, too.
And the season is about to start.
"Excited to see what we can do," said Hicks III.
Gaither's dual coaching of the Bantams and Juniors sports some tough players and Gaither's son, Chase, will be playing quarterback and knows the game of football.
"He's been playing for six years now," said Gaither.
Gaither answered that Chase was a good thrower, and noted he's a baseball player, but, in the Wildcats' offense, it's not going to be a priority to throw the football, for obvious reasons.
"Even at the Pop Warner national championship level for football for these age kids (six years old to 14), they only do a pass to completion 20 percent of the time," said Gaither.
Not only must the quarterback make a good throw but more must happen, as one can guess.
"Got to have someone who is going to catch it too," said Gaither. "With passing, too, you have to have sophisticated blocking."
The whole process of the aforementioned online testing and coaches clinic certification classroom stuff lends to just smart football being presented to the masses. Sponsored by the NFL, too, is the USA Heads Up Football national program.
"We teach to take the head out of tackling, so kids aren't leading with their heads," said Gaither. "NFL helps sponsor so kids at this level hopefully carry it over to high school."
And beyond, even, to college and the pros where the NFL is cracking down on head-hunter type hits, as extreme penalties, fines, even suspensions, for defensive players hitting offensive players above the shoulders on a tackle.
And, for the Bantams, leading that offense for Gaither looks to be, Devonte, also known as "Tay-Tay," Watley, whom Gaither described as super fast and a great athlete, as well as Dravaughn Williams, who, like Watley, has track sprinting speed at the national level.
"Both are super good on both sides of the ball," said Gaither, noting they are not just sprinters but understand how to play the game of football as well.
Brandyn Gibson is another that Gaither pointed out. He's a running back and versatile player on offense and defense. He likes his team's chances.
As a Bantam, Gibson mentioned his team got to the playoffs and lost.
"We are going to be a real fast team," said Gibson.
And football's not only about the experienced athlete, speedster types, and experienced returning players, it's also about the first-year players getting out there and trying their hand at this rough and tough sport that builds character in kids among many other things, like muscles, and also confidence in self.
Yury Coucoules is a Juniors division player.
"I played lacrosse last year, this is my first time out," said Coucoules.
And he likes how Gaither does things.
"He's funny, and he's not too tough on people," said Coucoules.
Added Gibson, "He's not an angry coach. The only time he will really crack down on you is if you're not paying attention."
Coach Gaither has a football that flies really far, new in the box, ready for a player who can do something great.
"It's just a little carrot out there, for the first player who can name all the 60 players we have on the Bantam and Junior teams," said Gaither.
The 76ers are also working hard for their coach, Horton Charles, as these young little guys, and one girl, Janiyah, listened intently to their coach lead them through jumping jacks to start things off excercise style before blocking, tackling and, hitting drills.
One player came up to coach Charles after practice, face beaming.
"I like tackling, I really want to do that tomorrow," said Griffin Matzen, one of the players Charles mentioned who should make an impact on the team, with others being Terrell Rife, and Swinney.
Horton's son, Prince, will be the team's quarterback and he should do well back there.
"I believe he is going to do OK," said Charles. "He's in his second year and really knows the position."
Charles mentioned his son did not play quarterback for the team, that duty was done by Jackson, mentioned of the 89ers, who will be one of three for that year-up division. But Charles knows his son's abilities showed a lot on that runner-up championship team.
"He had some pick sixes, running interceptions back for touchdowns," said Charles. "So he's pretty good."
And the kids did well listening to him tell them things, too, though young.
"They are a good group of kids," said Charles.
Photo gallery for this story