When you think you can’t, you really can if you work hard and stay focused on the prize.
The 2017 Spring KYA Football 12u Senior season was one of my most challenging youth football seasons to coach in all my 20 plus seasons coaching tackle pee wee football. Even before the Spring season started, the challenges began with the loss of two key experienced players to other Spring sports; Middle School 7on7 and Select Basketball. Our top starting running back decided to play 7on7 with his Middle School’s 7on7 team before starting the middle school season, and our top Offensive / Defensive Tackle joined his traveling Select Basketball team for the Spring. These were two very big player losses which had helped past KYA Panther teams reach the Super Bowl each season since the team’s inception at 8U. A few other past Panther players that we usually pick up in the player draft did not sign up to play Spring football which was also hurt our chances for a good season. The final 12U season would not include any of the original players from the 8U Green Panthers team, but a mixture of only 6 past Panther players from the last two seasons. We also decided to gamble with upgrading our QB and did not bring back our starting QB to the team. In hindsight the QB decision was not the smartest decision of the 2017 Spring youth football season.
2017 Spring 12U Panther’s Season Challenges
- Loss of Key Players before season started
- Loss of Assistant Coach to Another Team
- Last Minute / New Coach to Age Group Freezes Top 3 Players in Draft
- Unable to Draft “Passing” QB
- Average Draft Outcome compared to past Seasons
- Too many practice and game absences by players
- Mid Round Experienced Player no Shows / Quits season after 2nd game
- Starting QB out with Concussion one game
- Starting O/D tackles hurts back out one game then breaks wrist
- Starting O/D Guard breaks wrist
- Played #2 seed Team with only 11 players and won
- Revamped Offense backfield to run Wildcat style formations
- #1 Seed is a quasi-Select youth football team and beating everyone by 30 points
After player try outs at the league’s organized grass drills a week before the player draft, the ramifications of our player losses and decisions became apparent. Ouch! We thought we would be ok and find a passing QB in the draft and another running back. We did not find a QB. Coach Green, the Co-Head Coach, and myself had always been lucky and very good at the draft, but this season Lady Luck was on the Hurricane’s sideline. The Hurricanes were a new team to the age division, coached by one of our past assistant coaches that had taken his stud son to play Select a season or two prior to the 2017 Spring season. His son was the top pick in the 12U KYA FB 2017 Spring draft until one of the returning 12U coaches decided not to coach just one day before the draft. The league in a bind and short of 12U Spring coaches ask the Hurricane’s coach to take a team. He did along with 6 of the top players in the draft. He froze 3 players; his stud son, a top passing QB and another stud RB. He got 3 of the other top players in the draft based on draft order, other team freeze picks and wrap arounds. The Hurricanes came out with the best draft of talent I have seen in years. I was extremely jealous of their draft. I am sure this is how other teams thought of Coach Whit and myself over past seasons and now it happened to us. A big dose of reality slapped me across the face. I knew this was going to be a tough season. Sure, we would be in the top 4 teams and most likely make the playoffs, but getting to the Super Bowl to finish out the perfect Super Bowl run was going to be extremely difficult. The football gods were going to test us even more throughout the season.
Absences are always more likely during Spring youth football seasons because of Spring Breaks and football being played out of season competing with other Sports played in the Spring. Our 2017 Spring was certainly no exception. Because we win a ton of games and players usually want to play for our teams, we normally do not have very many player absences. We were very surprised this season when players began missing practices pretty early in the season. We had players missing practice due to school, homework, after school events, rides, work, vacations, injuries, and so on. It usually is no big deal but this season was so noticeable even a few players were commenting about the lack of players at practice. One player’s parents never brought their son to practice. Others had to pick him up. Then he just quit after the second game due to grades and then a mysterious appendectomy. Never called or emailed about quitting. Too weird. This missing player really hurt the team since he was the starting play side TE and was named Co-MVP Offensive linemen in the first game. He was a pretty good blocker. He also had great hands. It really hurts the team when a high mid round draft pick quits, because you could have chosen another player to be part of the team. I do not think many parents realize football is a team sport. Missing practice and games hurts everyone on the team, not just little Johnny.
We also had our fair share of injuries this season. We had 3 broken wrists, a back injury and a concussion. Two of the broken wrists were during the season. The starting OD Guard and Tackle played with casts on for half the season. Our star Linemen was out 1.5 games due to a major back injury and had a broken wrist later in the season. Our one regular season loss was when our stud linemen was out. These injuries were tough to deal with game days and resulted in us playing the #2 seed Tigers with only 11 players. Our Center showed up to that game with the flu and almost did not play. But he played thanks to his mother getting him ready before the game. We also had to scramble since one of our running backs which is also the backup QB was on vacation and our starting QB was out with a Concussion. In Pre-game, we installed the FAT formation which was our Pie formation in a Wildcat set since we had no QB. I tried to install FAT in our last practice but the starting TB was out with a school function so we were scrambling in pre-game with only 11 players. I thought oh well, if we are competitive we will be fine; we can still make the playoffs as the #3 or #4 seed. We went on to win that game 20-8 and solidify the #2 seed position for the playoffs. Wow.
After that game, we revamped our offense to a straight Beast / Wildcat type offense. We did not run a “true” quarterback for the next 3 games. Our starting Tailback took over as the Wildcat Beast back and we made it to the Super Bowl as the underdog vs. the Hurricanes. The Hurricanes had beaten us in the regular season by 20 points. To be honest, I wanted to keep the game within 14 points. I knew we had to play a perfect game. We prepared the players and let them know they had to play a perfect game. We must minimize mistakes, turnovers, penalties and most importantly we must pass and catch the football. We had been struggling all season passing the football with less than 30% completion rate. It was terrible.
I knew from my past coaching experience the Power Wing Beast Offense is set up to beat a high scoring offense if we stick to our rushing game plan and take every second to call the play so we use up the game clock. We pound the football for 3 and 4 yards down the field eating up the game clock so the opposing offense can never be on the field. We throw only when we are forced to do so. Defensively we must make them work for each score. We cannot let them score in less than 4 plays. We must make them drive the field with drives over 8 plays and or turn over the football. We also need Lady Luck to let us get an onside kick or two.
Well, I must say the 15-6 Super Bowl win over the Hurricanes was the best win I’ve experienced as a coach. To be honest, the only win that beats this win, is my playing experience as a 9U Select youth football player winning a 1974 Houston City Championship game in Rice Stadium. After the Panther Super Bowl win I was so excited I fell to me knees. Our Panther players stepped up to the challenge and beat the #1 seed. We all coached and played well above ourselves. We transcended expectations and our personal bests. That day, for a brief moment, we reached football Valhalla. Even youth football players and coaches can achieve a moment of enlightenment that will remind them, “When you think you can’t, you really can!”
Remember to Play for Fun and Winning is Funner!