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Jr Thunder now benefiting from high school's help

Coach Benzel meets with coaches and offers advice
By: Jim Linsdau Placer Herald Sports Editor
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The Rocklin Jr. Thunder Football and Cheer players, coaches, and administrators are not only in step with their preseason training, but are now in complete synchrony with the Rocklin High School football and cheer programs. RJT President Stephanie Abercrombie said her organization has been working diligently with high school head football coach Greg Benzel in an effort to help prepare future Thunder players for the next level. Abercrombie said in the past that hasn’t always been the case, but thanks to vastly improved lines of communication and cooperation RJT and the school are now working in unison. “In the past four or five years we worked really hard to be in line with the high school,” said Abercrombie earlier this week. “Coach Benzel works with us; even comes and interviews our coaches.” Because of this relationship, Abercrombie said 98 percent of those who come out to play with the Jr. Thunder will eventually be students at Rocklin High. She said, although RJT is closely aligned with the high school’s football program, they are autonomous and do not answer to the local school district. Patty Murphy, who coaches the Midgets’ cheer squad, said they, too, have been working more closely with the high school. She said the kind of feedback they get from the Thunder cheer program helps to better their performers to make it to that next level. Because of cheer’s evolution into competitions over and above the excitement and pageantry they bring to the game, cheer has become a year-round activity as well. Murphy said she encourages here girls to facilitate their skills through gymnastics and dance classes. “I’ve told the girls if they really want to excel, if they really want to gain, to get involved in some sort of tumbling program,” Murphy said, “because with the more tumblers we have the more competitive we become with the other squads we compete with.” Murphy said they also instituted a dance class to help them prepare, and the performers responded to it very well. She said one of her newest participants came to them from a dance background and her addition to the squad has been exceptional. Like the football teams, cheer is made up of five divisions: Midgets, Jr. Midgets, PeeWee’s, Jr. PeeWee’s, and Mitey Mites. However, cheer has one extra level – Mascots. Whereas the ages generally range from 7-14, the Mascots begin at age 6 to help the girls learn fundamentals before moving up to a higher level. “It’s just a great organization; it’s a sense of community,” said Murphy. “My husband coaches football as well so we’re here as a total unit.” And a unit is largely what the football program has become. Now that RJT works within the high school system, there is very little change for players when they advance from one level to the next. Not only that, they do not enter Rocklin High School having to learn a whole new way of playing football. Andrew DaCosta, who coaches the Jr. Thunder Midgets is pleased he doesn’t have to remold his players when they come up from the Jr. Midgets. And that holds true for all the other levels as well. Now, when DaCosta gets a player from the previous level he can concentrate more on their individual skills and responsibilities rather than try and teach the team a complete new system. “Rocklin’s scheme is not an easy thing,” said DaCosta of the high school’s playbook, “but these kids are challenged and they grasp it and so it definitely benefits. “I know if I was at the high school level, and I’m a freshman coach and I’ve got kids coming out that already know what plays we’re going to (use), you’re hitting the ground running.” But football is only a part of what the organization offers. DaCosta said his players are taught responsibility and values they can use in life, as well as on the field. He said there is more to what they teach the kids than fundamental football; he said they build character as well. “We know there’s a bigger picture,” said DaCosta. It’s trying to really get these kids to know that it is team. It kind of gives kids the understanding there is more to life than just themselves.” E-mail Placer Herald Sports at jiml@goldcountrymedia.com