Four local clubs are back after sending teams to their respective league championships last year, and a fifth club, based in Mountain House, will give even more children a chance to get onto the gridiron.
In all, league organizers expect to have 19 teams representing their communities this year as games run from August to November, with championship games in December.
Junior varsity coach Gabe McCarty hopes to see his players continue a winning streak that stretches across two perfect seasons.
The Junior Bulldogs are the defending Delta Youth Football League junior varsity champions, and the novice team won the DYFL title the year before that, in the last year as the Raiders, with the same coaching staff and most of the same players. Both times, they did it with perfect seasons, adding up to a 25-0 winning streak.
“A lot of our starters moved on, but looking at the boys here, we’ll have no problem filling those spots,” McCarty said during practice last week.
“I told the boys, ‘The guys who were champions last year have moved on for the most part, so for you guys, it’s yours to get.’ Every season is a brand-new start.”
The Bulldogs’ novice team also reached the DYFL Super Bowl last year and finished as league runner-up, while the varsity finished short of the playoffs. The junior novice level is for development of players, and the DYFL does not keep scores or records for those teams.
This is the 39th year for the club, known as the Tracy Raiders until last year, when the team changed its name to affirm its connection with the Tracy High football program.
The Bulldogs’ first week of practice last week at Tracy Ball Park included a visit from Tracy Raider alumnus Matt Overton, a special teams center for the Indianapolis Colts. Through his Pros 2 Youth organization, he raised $1,000 from an Internet auction of footballs signed by Colts teammates Andrew Luck and Adam Vinatieri.
He told the players that the determination to move forward in spite of setbacks is a recurring theme for all football players — and an outlook that allowed him to seize an opportunity with the Colts.
“At the end of the day, you just keep working hard and pursuing your dreams,” Overton said. “In the long run, it builds character, and you just have to persevere through hard times.”
John Harvey, the president of the 10-year-old Tracy Cougars youth football club, said coaches are looking for another age group to emerge as a DYFL leader after most of last year’s Cougar varsity team grew out of the program.
Those players will mostly move on to the West and Kimball high school teams.
The core players in that group — with head coach Rob Miller, who has also moved on — had been to five consecutive DYFL Super Bowls and finished the 2011 season as the DYFL varsity runner-up.
“We’re starting our next big era without (Miller),” Harvey said. “He will definitely be missed. He brought a lot of success to the organization, and we will definitely keep that going.”
The Cougars started their season with a visit from a local NFL player, Stanley Arukwe, on July 14. The former Cougar is now with the Arizona Cardinals.
During the first week of practice last week at Hirsch School, Harvey said he and other coaches would have to see which players want to win the most.
“Numbers-wise, I’d have to say our Novice team looks pretty good. JV, there’s some talent,” Harvey said. “Our Junior Novice squad, we’re really young, which is good, because if we can keep these kids out here, they’ll play together for seven years.”
Harvey said the growth in popularity of youth football is good for the young players. He doesn’t expect the Cougars to cut any children from its rosters this year, which puts more responsibility on the coaches to turn them into football players.
“When you get in that position where you have to cut, it’s the kid with the least experience that suffers from it, and he needs it the most,” Harvey said. “We’ve gone from trying to get as many kids as possible and then take the cream of the crop to getting an organization that really tries to develop all of the kids.”
The Buccaneers have had at least one championship team in each of the past eight years, and the league’s leaders look to the next generation of players to capture another Delta Youth Sports Association title.
Last year, it was the rookies, the 8- to 10-year-old age group, who won the DYSA Super Bowl.
“It was a really good team and a lot are returning this year, so they look to be a contender again this year,” said Bruce Russell, the Buccaneers president, during practice last week at Tracy Ball Park.
Players from last year’s starts division team, which was DYFL runner-up last year, will also be added to the team.
The Buccaneers have switched leagues a few times since they began in 2004, but Russell said they have competed mostly with the same teams under the same rules. The difference this year is in the DYSA’s overall growth.
“We added a lot of teams to our league this year. A lot of Bay Area teams, and a lot of teams that play year-round football,” he said. “We’re looking for some really good competition this year.”
The Buccaneers have no connection to any high school program and also differ from the Bulldogs and Cougars in that coaches never cut players, but instead limit their rosters to those who sign up first.
“I don’t believe the cut leagues are cutting like they used to anyway, because there are so many programs out there,” Russell said. “They’re trying to fill their rosters like everybody else.”
The DYSA is also strict about its minimum play rule, which guarantees that each player will be in the game in both the first and second halves.
“It keeps the kid involved in the game throughout the whole game,” he said. “You spend more time getting those kids ready to play on Saturday than you probably normally would. We’ve had our chances to vote it out and we’ve never done it, and it’s for a reason. Kids develop at different ages.”
Panther Youth Football
Panther Youth Football started its fourth season this week with practices at the Tracy Learning Center and is still signing up players.
The mid-level age groups are the most popular, according to program founder Dwayne Grady, with a full team at the junior varsity level.
That team will include some of the novice players who claimed the Panther program’s first league title last year by going 12-0, including a win in the Trans Valley Youth Football League’s Superbowl.
It was more than just a milestone for the team. Grady noted that it showed that players who started at the junior novice level in the Panthers’ first year developed into championship players as they moved up through the age groups.
“They came up the right way,” he said. “The progression is working just like I expected.”
His aim this year is to keep building the program.
“We still have room at the other three levels,” Grady said. “We definitely have a lot of room at our junior novice level.”
He added that Panther Youth Football is showing maturity, in that more adults have joined as coaches and organizers. Grady still leads the team, though he lives in Southern California most of the time because of his employment. Leading the team’s day-to-day operations are his wife, Angie Grady, and brother Mitch Grady.
Upcoming youth football games
Saturday, Aug. 11
Buccaneers vs. Modesto Raiders, location TBA, 10/12/2/4
Saturday, Aug. 18
Panther Youth Football vs. Modesto Christian Kingsmen, West High, 1/3/5/7
Cougars vs. Lathrop Jr. Spartans, location and time TBA
Junior Bulldogs at East Stockton Yellowjackets, Franklin High, 9/11/1/3
Buccaneers at Panthers, location TBA, 10/12/2/4
Hurricanes at Winton, Winton Middle School, 9/11/1
Saturday, Aug. 25
Junior Bulldogs vs. North Stockton Bengals, West High, 11/1/3/5
Hurricanes vs. Gustine, Questa School, 10/12/2
Buccaneers vs. Jr. Kings, location TBA, 10/12/2/4
Panther Youth Football at Salida Steelers, Salida Middle School, 9/11/1/3
Cougars bye week
• Contact Bob Brownne at 830-4227 or firstname.lastname@example.org.