Youth football teams line up to open season

Whitney, Rocklin programs looking to align goals with high school programs
By: Brett Ransford, Placer Herald Correspondent
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In an effort to develop synergy with the goals and plans of the high school program it feeds, the Rocklin Jr. Thunder football program has been hard at work to continue strengthening their alliance with Rocklin High School. Throughout the preseason, Jr. Thunder coaches and coordinators have been meeting with the high school coaching staff. Varsity football coach Greg Benzel and cheer coordinator Debi DeVinna have been critical in the development of the Jr. Thunder program, according to the club’s president, Christie Webb. “We are becoming a true feeder program to the high school,” Webb said. “And without the help of Greg and Debi as well as David Bills (Rocklin High athletic director) this would not be possible.” The youth program has also used several high school athletes, who have helped run practices and participated as instructors. Combine that with more than 30 years of combined football and cheer experience and you have the recipe for the youth squad’s success. Recent opportunities to lace them up against other teams, the Jr. Thunder have been able to gauge their preparation for the regular season that kicks off Saturday. One of those game situation chances game in a series of scrimmages with the strong Folsom program. The Sierra Youth Football and Cheer jamboree last Saturday at Nevada Union featured the powerful host team as well as Del Oro. The Jr. Thunder coaching staff was able to assess areas of needed improvement and prepare for the upcoming regular season start. At the peewee level, coach Andrew DeCosta has seen a drop off in the number of players that tried out this season. “It’s been very unusual, but has provided us with a challenge,” DeCosta said. “The student-athletes we have will play a lot, gain experience, improve, and contribute even more towards the end of the season.” The Jr. Thunder organization is blessed with a number of experienced and outstanding coaches. Midget head coach Andy Brocchini is in his fifth season in the top spot, while junior midget coach Mike O’Rourke is in his first year as a head coach after six campaigns as an assistant. Kevin Connors takes over the mighty mites after spending a year in an assistant’s role. Rocklin is geared up for an extremely tough schedule. In the Sierra Valley Conference, 10 teams battle for four playoff spots, whereas the Sierra Foothill carries just eight teams. The Jr. Thunder will not face their hometown rival Whitney, but have their hands full in their first regular season game against the Oak Ridge Jr. Trojans. The Rocklin High cheerleaders will be part of the opening day festivities, as they will perform at the midget game along with 150 Jr. Thunder cheerleaders. Immediately following the midget game on Saturday, Rocklin High will host its annual blue and silver scrimmage, and is encouraging all Jr. Thunder players to stay for the event. Across town, in only their second year, the Whitney Jr. Wildcats have full rosters at every level. With the SYFC split into two conferences, the Jr. Wildcats jump back into the Sierra Foothill Conference. Their young program needed and got an early start to the season as coaches began their training in March and players headed into preseason skills clinics in July. Jr. Wildcat vice president Terrance Powell says his program is well prepared. “We have some very exciting athletes that have joined the organization,” Powell said. “We only had one team make the playoffs last year in our first year. The goal this year is to have at least three, however we believe that all five have the potential to get there.” Powell and the Jr. Wildcats will have to wait and see what the start of regular season says about the program’s growth and skill. In addition to new players, Whitney added a number of new coaches as well. In-house promotions allowed teams to promote experienced coaches to the top spot. Steve Watson was elevated from peewee offensive coordinator to head coach and junior midget assistant coach Stan Butts took the head coach reins. Scott Choisser heads the midgets, Jeff Cavarra the junior peewees and Jim Teague with the mighty mites. “We added a number of new quality coaches to our staff to augment the returning coaches that we have,” Powell said. “We are extremely proud of our staff and the dedication and commitment that they have shown to the organization.” It is too early to determine just how successful this season will be across all levels for Whitney. In addition, the regular season will establish its standout players. In the other part of its program, Wildcat cheer fulfilled a major goal for the entire organization by becoming completely aligned with the high school cheer squad. FYI: Saturday in the SYFC: Whitney hosts Ponderosa (mighty mites are up first at 9 a.m.) Rocklin hosts Oak Ridge (mighty mites are up first at 9 a.m.)