For the first time ever the Pro Football Hall of Fame has organized the National Youth Football Championship — a nationwide tournament to determine a true National Youth Football champion — an event being promoted as the Little League World Series for football.
The Del Norte AAA team is among hundreds of teams that will compete in one of eight regional tournaments around the country this weekend.
Del Norte AAA has been selected to compete in the Bay Area regional in the League Team Division’s 14 and under bracket, where they will kick off play against the Benicia Panthers on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. at Windsor High School. The National Youth Football Championship will feature brackets for eight different age groups in the League Team Division, while also hosting an All-Star Division for sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-grade teams that didn’t compete together during the regular season.
The Warriors were invited to participate in the eighth grade bracket of the League Team regional tournament in Santa Rosa during their impressive undefeated regular season in which they out-scored opponents by an average of 35 points per game.
Del Norte advanced to the Six Rivers Youth Football championship game before picking up their first loss of the season to second-seeded Redwood in a game that was much closer than the 30-18 final score indicated.
Del Norte was forced to play without their starting linebacker (a safety in the Warriors’ nickle package) Brendon Bradshaw, while star running back and linebacker Caleb Dodson was fighting an illness. Then Del Norte’s main leadblocker and one of its best pass rushers, Sam Schauerman, went down with an injury on the first play of the game.
Coach Schauerman said Del Norte may be completely healthy for the trip to Santa Rosa, however.
“Bradshaw is back healthy, Caleb Dodson, who is our stud running back is also back and healthy and Sam (Schauerman) goes to the doctor on Thursday and it is looking hopeful,” coach Schauerman said. “So we are very hopeful that we are going to have all of our pieces.”
Although Del Norte will be playing teams that it has never seen before in Santa Rosa, coach Schauerman said the Warriors will try to stick to the game plan and strategies that got the team noticed by the National Youth Football Championship scouts.
“We haven’t changed anything from the season,” coach Schauerman said. “The little bit of film that I did see, they didn’t do anything different that we haven’t seen. So schematically we didn’t really want to lose the kids mentally by trying to put a lot of new schemes in. As long as we do our jobs and stay fundamentally sound we will compete.”
Del Norte will be able to lean on its experience in the Six Rivers Youth Football League, which Schauerman said does a good job of giving offenses and defenses different looks throughout the season.
“We have split back offenses, we have pro, we have spread, we have double wing and single wing, so our league is good at showing us everything that we could see,” he said. “I don’t think they are going to be able to throw anything at us that we lose our mind over.”
With the SRYF playoffs wrapping up in early November every year, this is the longest that a Del Norte Youth Football team’s season has ever run by about a month.
“I’m not going to lie. It has been kind of tough to keep them focused for that extra time sometimes — a lot of them are thinking about basketball,” coach Schauerman said. “But for the most part they are all fired up.”
Win or lose against Benicia on Saturday, Del Norte will be right back in action on Sunday. A win Saturday would put the Warriors in the championship game at Windsor at 5 p.m. against the winner of the other semifinal matchup between the Patterson Ravens and the Sacramento Raiders. If Del Norte loses on Saturday they will play in the third-place game at Santa Rosa Junior College at 12:30 p.m.
“We are going to do a lot of rotations just to try to keep kids fresh for both games,” coach Schauerman said. “Luckily we have a lot of kids, and we have a lot of talent.”
The winner of the four-team tournament will advance to the National Championships in Canton, Ohio. Schauerman said the goal for the team is to compete as hard as possible and hopefully give themselves a chance to win.
“A successful trip, for me, is just to compete,” Schauerman said. “Win or lose, if we can compete in both of those games I feel like it will have been successful. We are a small team, from a small town and we are playing the biggest teams from the biggest areas. If Del Norte Youth Football can go down there and compete, that is successful to me. If we can go down there and win a game that would be over the top, and winning both would obviously be great. But win or lose both, I just want to compete and to have the kids feel like they were successful in what they did.”
Reach Michael Zogg at email@example.com.