Young football players get varsity advice

GUILDERLAND –– If young football players hope to be the stars of Guilderland’s future, then they need to be lighting up the field right now. That’s exactly what they did this week.

Despite the sweltering heat, kids gathered at Guilderland High School for the first annual Spread and Shred Youth Football Camp. The four-day camp was meant to bring Guilderland Pop Warner and GHS football closer together. Varsity Head Coach Dan Penna and some of his assistants instructed the kids, running them through actual varsity play calls.

Remembering varsity play calls might be tough for the youngsters, but most of the kids threw, caught, and ran with ease on Tuesday. Not one complaint was heard.

Learning the language is part of the sport, starting with the name of the program: Spread and Shred.

“We’re showing the kids our offensive spread, and it’s supposed to spread opposing defenses out,” said Penna. “And, once you close the defense down, you shred past them up the field.”

The purpose of the camp was to align the Pop Warner plays with the varsity plays. It also may increase the recently declining numbers of Pop Warner players. All week, the kids passed, ran, caught, and learned the fundamentals of football.

Tuesday’s events started with a “bubble screen,” which is a forward lateral that hits the receiver wide in the flat near the sidelines. In Pop Warner, the team defense is really tight, so there’s room to run if the offense can find it.

“It’s designed to exploit the hash marks,” Penna said of the bubble screen. “It’s an attack on the edges.”

Next on the play list were digs, fades, and hitches, which are specific receiving routes. A dig is when the receiver runs up field, really hard, for about three yards, and then comes back at a 45-degree angle toward the quarterback. A fade, also known as a fly, is a totally vertical route; just run past the defender. A hitch is one of the first routes you learn as a wide receiver, and is used well during screens.

Jeremy Dubay, Guilderland Pop Warner’s coordinator, said that last year’s Mighty Might team had a 33-play offense. Guilderland High School football will be a key resource for even more plays this coming season, which starts on Aug. 5.

“These kids remember a lot more than what people give them credit for,” Dubay said. “This is an enjoyable experience for everyone involved, and it’s important to the program. These kids need the fundamentals.”

Richie Sanderson, 8, who said he liked the Dallas Cowboys and the New York Giants, played right tackle for Guilderland’s Mighty Might team last season, but wants to move to wide receiver. He’s hoping Spread and Shred teaches him “cool” routes.

“There’s a lot of running,” Sanderson said, seeming a little shy. “It makes you faster.”

Zaviir Berry, who scored seven touchdowns and intercepted seven passes for the Dutchmen’s junior-varsity team last year, got the kids warmed up on Tuesday with exercises like the “sumo dance.” He used to play a lot of basketball, but switched to football in 2012.

“I just like football better; everything about it is better,” Berry said. “If these kids learn the routes, then they’ll know what to do. I think they’ve improved a lot for one day because they didn’t know the basic stances before.”

With any sport, including football, practice can make perfect. On Tuesday, the Guilderland youngsters weren’t making many mistakes, and looked enthused.

“They have a lot of energy, but they don’t move very far,” Penna said with a chuckle. “This is really fun. It’s great to have kids playing football, getting excited. The season is getting really close.”

Dubay told The Enterprise that the purpose of Spread and Shred is to have fun and learn some football. If these kids go on to play football in high school after coming to camp every year, then they’ll be prepared to make an impact on the field.

“Not every one of them will stick with football,” said Dubay, “but we’re trying to teach them enough so they’ll stay interested and feel like a part of something big.”

Trevor Relyea, 11, played center for the 6-2 Guilderland Junior Pee Wee last season, but he threw a lot of passes on Tuesday. He wants to be a quarterback, but when asked why, he struggled for a real answer.

Then, his father, Steve, chimed in, saying, “The quarterbacks get all of the girls.”

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