Thanks to cooperation between coaches, Pop Warner teams have
become the feeder system for area high schools
Stuffed on the previous play, the Hollister Jr. Pee Wee Vikings
needed to convert a third-and-three to keep their drive alive in
front of the Morgan Hill Raiders crowd.
Thanks to cooperation between coaches, Pop Warner teams have become the feeder system for area high schools
Stuffed on the previous play, the Hollister Jr. Pee Wee Vikings needed to convert a third-and-three to keep their drive alive in front of the Morgan Hill Raiders crowd.
The ball was on the left hash mark just as Hollister’s offensive linemen trotted to the line of scrimmage. Quarterback Trevor Fabing crouched under the center and yelped signals while the fullback and running back stood split in the backfield.
Fabing called for the snap, turned to his left, feigned a handoff to his running back with his right hand, gave the ball to his fullback with his left and rolled out as if to pass. Three yards later, the Hollister sideline cheered the first-down run.
The play, 852 Guard Trap, is a staple of the Wing-T offense. It’s the same offense that San Benito Haybalers head coach Chris Cameron installed when he took over at the high school is now being taught on Hollister Pop Warner practice fields, just as Live Oak coaches teach the Raiders the high school plays.
“We tweak it a little because we can’t pull the guards, but it’s basically the same thing,” said Gino Andrade, coach of the Junior Pee Wee squad.
Of the 180 athletes in the San Benito High School football program, nearly three-quarters of them first learned the nuances of the game as members of the Hollister Vikings. Half of the current roster for the Gavilan Rams is made up of former Haybalers. Half of those players also spent time in Hollister or Morgan Hill Pop Warner, said Bob Sanchez, Pop Warner president.
It means that over the past few years, Pop Warner football, like Little League, has become a farm system for the local high schools, while enjoying successes of their own. The Pop Warner season ended last weekend in Gilroy, with each of the four Hollister teams qualifying for the playoffs, which begin this weekend.
Granted, some of the best players in recent Haybaler history never set foot on a Pop Warner football field, such as the MBL’s defensive Most Valuable Player in 2001 Allan Renz and Matt Engwall, winner of the 2000 MBL MVP award for offensive. But others, such as former MBL MVP quarterback Nick Buzzetta and current Haybaler Trenton Young, honed their skills in the tutorial league.
“They start at 7 years old and play until they are 15,” said Sanchez, the President and founder of Hollister Pop Warner. “The kids reach the next level a more knowledgeable player, and the high school reaps the harvest.”
Justin Driskill, a wing back for the Junior Midgets and former offensive linemen for the team that won the 2000 national championship, said he plans to use the skills he is developing to try out for the Haybaler freshman team next year.
“Pop Warner helped me a lot,” said Driskill, who attends Marguerite Maze Middle School. “I want to try out for the freshman team.”
It’s just not happening in Hollister.
Before the start of this Pop Warner season, the Live Oak Acorns coaching staff held a series of clinics for Morgan Hill Raiders coaches to teach some of the things players do on the varsity level.
“They have been very receptive and anxious to learn new things,” said Webb. “I think it’s important to have a feeder program. It’s a plus. In the future it will pay dividends.”
Each year newcomers to the Pop Warner football league begin the season the same way.
On March 1, two days before the official registration date, the line for the upcoming season starts outside of Marguerite Maze Middle School Gymnasium. Parents and their hopeful sons and daughters roll out sleeping bags, pitch pup tents, fire up coffee machines and dig in like squatters until the doors open.
In less than a day, each of the 35 roster spots for each of the five football and cheer teams are filled: Mitey Mite, Junior Pee Wee, Pee Wee, Junior Midget and Midget.
After 25 years, Hollister Pop Warner League is stitched into the football fabric of this town.
The crush to join the league is simple. In Pop Warner, it is first come, first serve and since the returning players are guaranteed a spot the following year, spots are limited.
“Some coaches think you have to re-teach the kids once they reach the high school level,” said Sanchez, who played fullback for the Gilroy Mustangs before attending Gavilan College and starting for the Rams. “If that’s the case then there should be more coaches out here teaching blocking drills and working with the kids.”
In turn, five or six years down the line, if the same regime is still intact on the high school level, the kids will already be on the same page as the incumbents on the varsity team.
That’s exactly what Live Oak’s Webb and the Pop Warner coaches have begun to do this year. Three times a week for three hours a day, Pop Warner clubs from Morgan Hill to Hollister hit the practice field to perfect the new offenses.
Each Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday R.O Hardin Field is overrun with Hollister’s Pop Warner football program. In the middle of the field, the Vikings run through a set of calisthenics, starting with a lap around the track and ending with 20 push-ups. Around 10 yards away, the Midgets squad, named the Cowboys, does some light hitting.
At the furthest corner of the field, the Pop Warner cheer squads walk through a routine while the Mitey Mites team does jumping jacks and stretching exercises prepping for the upcoming game.
After a few wind sprints, field goal sets and blocking exercises, practice picks up.
Practices are intense and the coaches repeatedly run through plays. After two hours of tutoring and instructing their players, coaches give one last speech before game day.
“The toughest part is keeping them mentally prepared,” said Andrade, who played Pop Warner before playing wide receiver for the Haybalers from 1988-1992. “Getting them use to following the rules and discipline is hard. They’re kids and get distracted. The physical part is easy.”
Recently, the Hollister Pop Warner program traveled to Morgan Hill to take on the Raiders.
Parents, who are the backbone of the Pop Warner program, were everywhere. They lined the stands, manned the concession booths, sold souvenirs, ran the chain gang, announced the plays, started and stopped the time clock and kept the water bottles filled.
“Look at those stands,” said Sanchez as he pointed toward the purple and yellow clad parents in the Vikings stands. “Now look over there. We have always have a strong following. No matter where we go, Hollister always packs the stands. We have a strong football community.’
Sanchez said he wants Hollister’s pristine uniforms, tasty snack bar fare and well-groomed fields to be the envy of Pop Warner teams. He said he entertained the thought of expanding the league by adding another Mitey Mite or Jr. Pee Wee team but decided against it.
“We travel to games as a family. Everyone travels together,” said Sanchez. “If we were to add more teams, they would not be able to travel with us. So it’s probably not going to happen.”