Pacific Highway Chargers, Jesse Morales (white jersey), doing a squat drill, along with teammates, on his Juniors division team at a recent practice at Chinook Middle School near Tyee.
Chargers trot into second season
By Ed Shepherd
With one year under their belt in the Greater Seattle Youth Football League, the Pacific Highway Chargers hope to command a little more attention this season from its foes in its respective divisions, Pee Wees, 89ers, Juniors and Seniors.
They practice at Chinook High School Monday through Friday from 6-8 p.m. until the opening Jamboree this Sunday at Chief Sealth High School.
The season starts Sept. 6 against Kent at French Field and the first home game is Sept. 21 against SWAC of West Seattle at Highline Stadium.
"This is our second year in existence, and all of our numbers are pretty maxed out," said Chargers president Donald Wallace.
"Pretty maxed out" is a good way of putting it, with two divisions -- Pee Wees and Seniors -- with closed rosters and the other two divisions approaching those filled-up numbers, too.
Two years ago, Wallace created the Chargers franchise from having coached in the Burien Bearcats' organization a few years in a row.
Wallace just wanted to do things differently, go out on his own, and put into reality what he felt could happen with a lot of hard work.
"For as long as I've been coaching with them, I think things should have been put together better, about the kids more," said Wallace, adding, "But no hard feelings. I actually learned from Burien, learned ins and outs of running an organization from having been on the board. And, with connections, I thought I could do my own things. But if it wasn't for the Burien Bearcats, I wouldn't have been able to start the Pacific Highway Chargers."
The Chargers did not start their inaugural season in the GSYFL with any smashing records, or, playoff makes for any of the four divisions, with the best chance at the playoffs by the youngest age group. The Pee Wees finished with a less than impressive 3-5 record but drew a tie with another team who had the same record after the last regular season game. So a wild card game was played and the Pee Wees lost it.
The littlest guys, the 6 and 7 year old Pee Wees look as good as any for a chance of success past the regular season. These first and second graders are coached by Clarence Whiting, who is really enjoying this team that's had its moments of not so good behavior, but is improving.
And Whiting's enjoying the good and the bad.
"Having a whole lot of fun," said Whiting. "They are getting better and better every day. The first week was bad, but they've steadily improved in listening and learning."
The first week of practice started way back in late July, so it's good to see less than a month later things are on the upswing for Whiting's team.
That change in behavior and attitude as a whole for the 36 kids on the team, which incidentally was 21 on the roster total Whiting's first year coaching these guys, came how?
"If they are not listening, they are running," said Whiting.
Whiting's methods worked visibly well as kids went through the beginning excercises to drills without much, if any, goofing off at all.
"How do we feel," asked Whiting, going by the lines of kids doing leg-lifts that kicked off practice excercises.
"Good, coach," came the responses.
Then came push-ups, which went military-style, too.
"On your feet," commanded Whiting.
Next the 36 players sprouted to their feet, putting in mouthpieces for backpedaling line formations.
"Don't put your head down," said Whiting as he looked like a snake, coiled, ready to strike, football cocked and ready to throw at a player who was not looking ahead.
The bear crawl followed.
"Get off your knees," said Whiting.
Sprinting time was next. Just a little reminder there is no "R" in football for taking it easy.
"Sprint, no trotting," said Whiting as players, sometimes, took it a little easy sprinting 10 yards in the last of the opening exercises.
Whiting likes the experience factor on his Pee Wees division team.
"We have eight, nine returners and a lot of kids were six years old, who are now seven," he said, mentioning names like quarterback and son Terence, along with linebacker/running back DJ Taape and defensive end/running back Jaden Bogan and safety/running back Tew Kongaika, and center/defensive lineman Isaac Lopez. Also, a newcomer, Brian Webster, was mentioned.
Lopez likes the things going on in football from coach Whiting and others, like assistant Jarek Leger.
"They are so cool," said Lopez. "They have a lot of stuff for us to do."
Like running? Is it fun to run?
"Running makes you faster," said Lopez.
Bogan happily answered the question, "Is football tough?"
He answered it thoroughly and precisely, too, and wisely, as well.
"There are a lot of injuries and you have to be tough to play this game," said Bogan, a 7-year old."
And, what happens if you're not tough?
"If you get hit, you will get hurt," said Bogan. "You have to be strong and tough."
After the Pee Wees, maybe the Juniors stand the next best chance of advancing past the regular season to the playoffs, as their coach, Ronald Williams, has these fifth and sixth graders thinking on his wavelength, already, with practices only 3-4 weeks in. And, there's a good reason for that.
"Last year, I coached the 89ers division and on it a coach has, maybe, 3-4 players with experience playing football," said Williams. "Now, coaching at this Juniors level, I have kids that have played before, so I'm not having to reiterate much. And, I have 11 kids that have followed me from the Bearcats."
Williams followed president Wallace too, so the ties of those two are definitely ones that bind.
"They know my style of coaching, what is expected of them," said Williams. "This team has speed, athleticism, and a familiarity with me and that tends to make things go much more smoothly."
Coach Williams mentioned some players that will make a difference this season in the Juniors' charge to a potential postseason.
"Tevita Takia is phenomenal, a middle linebacker. Amazing. He was with me at the Bearcats," said Williams. "He's very experienced, the most likeable kid ever."
Williams mentioned more players, not the skill position guys one would think but players that fit the mold of, say, character guys who lead a team, which is just what he wants.
"Devin Whiteside is a linebacker, he's a leader on the team, and that's more important than the speed and raw talent. You can't teach leadership. I have so many but another stand out is Jesse Morales. It's hard to find a kid who loves football so much and will pick up other kids knocked down."
Takia spoke and said, "I think we have a good team, built, strong players and fast players. Coach knows what he's doing, too."
Morales said he kept a positive attitude last season in the midst of things that were going wrong a lot of the time.
"We had bad communication among the players," said Morales. "And not many players on the team. We have a lot more players this year."
What's good about your coach, Williams, how does he communicate his style to the players?
If we're doing something with the wrong attitude, he takes us out and doesn't put us back in until our attitude is better."
The oldest division, Seniors, of seventh-eighth graders, is looking like their chances are improved over last season.
That team that was a couple games away from making the playoffs. Their coach, Lavell Bogan, has an optimistic outlook on the season.
"We have an opportunity to challenge for the championship," said Bogan. "The best players from the Juniors and Seniors squad come back and we are running the same offense as last year."
Bogan explained that his team is a veteran squad with 18 players altogether to help from the Juniors and Seniors.
"Nine from Juniors moving up and nine Seniors returning," said Bogan.
That's a good mix of experience, especially when one considers that the key skill positions are some of those 18, like quarterbacks Jaylen Bogan and William "Pikachu" Kanongata'a.
"Jaylen is a second year QB and came in last year and got MVP of the league for Juniors. He has a big arm and quick legs," said coach Bogan of his son and key player of the offense.
Then another QB is Kanongata'a, who Bogan will play dual with his son.
"He was the QB for the Seniors last year," said Coach Bogan. "He is a very poised guy. He is like one of the coaches on the team. And he can play every position on the defense."
Running back Tohi Augiula will help Bogan's team out.
"He's a natural running back, one of the best all-around skills, and he's elusive," said Bogan.
Jesus Delgado, too, is a player of note by his coach as this middle linebacker can be tough and rough on foes.
"He's got great physicality, very physical," said Bogan. "He does boxing outside of football. He's the most physical player on the team."
Michael Williams is "very strong, very gifted," according to Bogan, slotting him to be linebacker this season.
The Seniors assistant coach is Curtis Bogan Jr., a star runner for Renton High School back in the late 1980s who also played for the University of Washington in the early 90s.
He was talking to players in drills in a recent practice, as brother Lavelle, an all-state selection in high school himself in football, looked on.
"When you hit him, wrap him up," said Bogan Jr. "Put your head here (in the belly area) when you tackle. When you are a ball carrier, don't stop running when you get hit. Keep the legs going."
A player on last year's Seniors team, Kanongata'a, the quarterback, explained that the team was just not the same as now.
"The coaching wasn't disciplining us," said Kanongata'a. "We were undisciplined during the games. Now in practices we are running more but they don't push it to a point that it gets out of hand. We also have closer bonds this year. We are more communicative."
The goal is simple.
"Our goal is to win the championship," said Kanongata'a.
The goal of the last division team, the 89ers, of third and fourth graders, is to improve under first year coach Ronnie Toms. And the 89ers can only go up, having experienced an 0-8 season last year, in what was understandable for a first year franchise that many players were wanting to see how it turned out before entering.
"I think we will win a game or two this season," said Toms, being not too overly optimistic but real too, not really knowing what to expect from players he's not familiar with.
But Toms is ready to go and do what the Chargers' board elected him to do -- coach -- because of the promise he's shown helping out other coaches in past seasons, being an assistant for the Pee Wees last season with Whiting.
"They see potential in me an I have to return it," said Toms.
As for his team, he sees more potential in one side of the ball than the other.
"I think there is a lot of potential for this team, and the defense will be stronger than the offense," said Toms.
There is a lot of chatter from his players that Toms feels goes on that might not go on in a different situation.
"If it was a closed practice, players wouldn't be looking to see what parents are going to say," said Toms. "We need them to focus on the guys in front of them and not what's going around outside."
But the season is almost here and Wallace has this program on an inside track of improvement, it appears, for several of these divisions, playoff bound, and a whole lot of happy kids playing football that might not have got a chance if not for Wallace's creation of the Chargers franchise.
Said Ed Dumas, vice-president of the Chargers, "Donald moved on and helped this area get a bunch of kids with something to do. The kids learn discipline from the coaches and hard work. It's all about the kids."
It's about the cheerleaders, too, the ones under cheer director Gabby Gorog's leadership.
"We have 37 right now," said Gorog. "A lot are new. We had two more join today. We have quite a few 6 and under age kids. A lot of practice going on there."
And, for football, what's to be done by these young ladies?
"Defense, offense cheers," said Gorog. "And all of our cheerleaders compete against other teams' cheerleaders at end of season competition that is a lot of fun, too."
Sounds like a whole lot of fun.
Photo gallery for this story