Football camp gets Valley youth ready for season

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The first snap of the season for Warhorse Youth Football and Cheerleading is still a month away, but whistles and pre-snap cadences could be heard around Veterans Park July 17, as the organization kicked off its annual camp.

The three-day event serves as the unofficial start of the football season for many children in the Swannanoa Valley.

Dozens of kids ages 5-13 arrived after a downpour on the first day of camp ready to run routes, improve their technique or simply meet potential teammates and coaches. The camp is offered free every year by the Warhorse organization, which draws from the entire Swannanoa Valley.

“The camp basically just gets their feet wet and gives kids who may have never played before an opportunity to see if they’re really interested,” said Darren Messer, president of the Warhorse Youth Football and Cheerleading organization.

Although the official start to the season was July 20, Messer said the camp was casual in nature to allow kids to acclimate.

The organization features four divisions: Mighty Mites (5- and 6-year-olds), Mites (7 and 8), Termites (9 and 10) and Midgets (11-13). There are cheerleading squads for each corresponding division, with the exception of the Mighty Mites, which Messer says is “a highly instructional division” that focuses on fundamentals.

Last year more than 100 kids signed up. Messer predicts even more will register this year.

The camp allows players to meet new coaches and learn some fundamentals, often from Owen High School players.

“The young kids look up to those guys so much,” Messer said. “Having (Owen players) there makes it a really special experience for a lot of the kids.”

Rising senior Antonio McDowell, a fullback and linebacker for the Warhorses, started working with young players as soon as they arrived on Monday.

“I just want to help teach these kids how to play the game,” McDowell said. “And I want them to have fun.”

McDowell’s commitment to the youth football organization will extend beyond camp too, as he intends to help coach one of the teams as part of his senior project.

“I helped at the youth camp last year too,” he said. “I really liked it, so I thought (coaching) would be good for my senior project because it’s something I’ve always wanted to do.”

For McDowell, coaching allows him to pass on knowledge he’s accumulated in a sport he’s loved and been playing since he was two.

“I had two older brothers who played football,” he said. “I used to watch them play, and that made me want to be like them.”

Some of the kids McDowell worked with last year at the Warhorse camp became members of the Midget team that went undefeated and won its Super Bowl last November. Many of the players from that roster aged out of the league or are opting to play for Owen Middle School this year. Matt Turner, who has been on the coaching staff at the high school for over a decade, will take over as the coach.

"A lot of the coaches that coached the team last year had kids on the team, and they moved on," he said. "So they wanted to spend time watching their kids play at the next level. I've helped here with the Termites the last three years, and I agreed to coach."

Turner's experience coaching offensive and defensive line at the high school will help him teach potential future Owen players with the system used at the high school.

"I can help make sure we run the same stuff they do at the school and get them familiar with that system," Turner said. "At that age they play here, then a lot of them go on to play middle school then high school, so that can be tough if they have to learn different stuff at every level."

With the opening kickoff on Aug. 12, Turner and the other Warhorse coaches are still in the process of filling out rosters. While this year's Midget group may have a different look, Turner would like to see his team be competitive while learning how to play game, he said.

"I'm like anybody else, I want to win," he said. "But you don't have to win to teach the way that they'll be playing the game for the next four or five years. I'm really going to focus on making them better football players."

Messer said the season will begin in earnest July 24 and that coaches are in place for each team. But, he said, the organization "can always use some help coaching."

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