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By ANDREW ROSTEN
PAXTON — For all three teams in the Paxton-Buckley-Loda youth football program, today marks the beginning of the season.
Each team will host their Central Illinois Football League season opener against Dwight this Saturday.
For the program, however, the game could serve as more of a stepping stone toward the players’ future high school playing days.
“It’s something that needs to happen when you’re younger so that they’re better prepared when they get to the high school,” said Jim Hobson, the head coach of the Mighty Mites team made up of third- and fourth-graders. “I think that, over time, you’re going to notice that the schools that have the youth programs are going to have the better high school teams. It’s a great program for the kids. It introduces them to the game. ”
Rocky Marron, head coach of the Seniors (made up of seventh and eighth graders), said part of the way in which the program helps kids develop is by instilling the game plans used by the high school coaches.
“We try to teach the same offense and defense that the high school level does,” Marron said. “I get really good input from (PBL high school head coach Jeff) Graham and (defensive coordinator Doug) McCoy at the high school level. They do a good job of keeping me up-to-date with stuff at that level, and we just try to get that continuous flow from seventh to eighth grade to freshman and sophomore. We just try to keep that train going.”
At least from the Seniors’ standpoint, they will have plenty of time to grow into their high school talent.
Marron said his team this year will have about 17 or 18 seventh-graders moving up from the Juniors (fifth and sixth grade) level.
“We’re young this year,” Marron said.
Despite not having much size, Juniors coach Andy Pound said his team is talented.
“We’ve got a pretty athletic group,” Pound said. “I think if we run the right offense and right defense, I think we’ll be alright. I think we’re going to be good.”
Pound said his team will rely on quickness this season in order to gain success.
“We have a lot of fast backs,” Pound said. “We have a fairly strong line, just not very big, but I think we’ll be alright. Compared to what I’ve seen the last several years as far as league-wide, I think we’re going to be pretty good this year. I’m excited.”
The potential for a good season aside, Pound said he would consider it a successful season if his kids merely learned a few things about he game of football.
“I just want the kids to learn the basics: tackling, blocking,” Pound said. “I want to get them ready for the high school because that’s where the memories are.”
With this year’s youth movement, Marron said he merely expects improvement from his players.
“We’re young,” Marron said. “Our goals are a little bit different than they are at the high school level. What I try to get these kids to do is learn the game of football. They’re a great group of kids. They’re hard-working kids. They’re great teammates to each other. We may have a few bumps in the road with the youth, but they’re working hard, and I think by the end of the season, we’ll be in good shape.”
Hobson said he shares Marron’s goals of improvement and learning.
“At this level, we don’t really set our goals at wins and losses,” Hobson said. “It’s about teaching the fundamentals. We want to improve every week and make sure the kids are learning.”