Coach Mike Dixon of the 1st-2nd graders Junior Football League division, talking to Papa Faletogo, in a recent practice at Valley Ridge, next to Tyee High School.
Sharks hunting for postseason success
By Ed Shepherd
Seatac Sharks Junior Football is about hitting and tackling and throwing and catching and running, and, cheerleaders cheering.
But under that skin of what was a 2013 Sweet Peas championship and a Juniors runner-up finish is the community of it all as franchise president, Clarence Presley, explained.
"We are trying to build a relationship with others around us," said Presley, mentioning Teri McMahon, who is involved with Highline schools, and Lyn Higginbotham, who is team president of another area Junior Football League franchise, the Burien Bearcats. "Highline has one of the highest free and reduced lunch programs in the state, so that speaks of the economy in this area."
Presley wants people to understand all the fundraising and getting fields and everything is hard work, and likes the other sports in the Fall that are getting its players' locations to play. However, Presley also wants football able to share that field fun, too, in complementary fashion.
"In the neighborhood, we appreciate soccer," said Presley. "There are a lot of kids in soccer leagues. But we don't want soccer to take all the football fields away. We need football fields, too. We have 140 kids in the Sharks program now and more kids are coming in to play still for the season. The population we serve often gets overlooked."
Presley mentioned Public Storage as a business that gets it, that recognizes the needs of this sport for the kids in first to eighth grade in the SeaTac area of Tyee High School location, a diverse group.
"We have so many different ethnicities," said Presley, mentioning, Cambodian, Tongan, Samoan, Puerto Rican, White, African-American, Mexican, and was sure he was forgetting a few, too.
Incidentally, the Sharks are a feeder program for area high schools. The Sharks want to feed into Tyee's football program but Tyee is lacking a team right now. So, this kind of attention and showing of so many kids out for the sport of football at a young age bodes well for Tyee getting football players coming of age to play in high school. That's the hope, and probably one could say prayer, of Presley, who, to note, is a local pastor in the community, too.
Amen to all the community tie-ins and links of relationship work dug by Presley and others.
As for football, the Sharks play it as well as anyone, being a franchise of four divisions: 1st-2nd graders, 3rd-4th graders, 5th-6th graders, 7th-8th graders.
Sweet Peas division coach Al Scanlon, who coached that team to the title last year, one can understand why the Sharks divisions were mostly really good, making the playoffs, at least.
And Scanlon is bringing his coaching talents to the oldest division now. But, speaking of the Sweet Peas, the youngest age division, that division's excited new coach, Demario Sterling, who was defensive coordinator on that Sweet Pea title team last season, looks forward to leading that team to repeat the great success of last season.
And, let's say this, Sterling is stepping into a good coaching situation as he has a ton of players off that championship Sweet Pea team now in his stable as 3rd-4th graders division players.
Also, to clarify, up to now, the Sharks played past seasons in the South King County JFL with division names like Sweet Peas, 89ers, Bantams, Juniors and Seniors, but just moved this season to the Nisqually League and its divisions now are called after grades in school.
The Sharks players on Sterling's team now who were off Scanlon's championship team are Pule Leatigaga, Traveah Alfrid, Chance Guadiz, Sonny Asu, Anthony Martinez, Nijawn Sterling, Malachi Walker, Nat Salinas, EJ Caminong, Silas Robinson, Sione Tiono, Sione Tupou, Aaron Sokimi, Deshawn Presley, Aaron Nelson, Stitch Savelio and Lindon Vaivao.
Those players are all back as a group for the next division up and were great assistance in helping the Sharks win the championship over the Emerald City Seahawks, 22-20, in early November.
Vaivao was quarterback, but he remained humble when asked how he led his Sweet Peas division team to victory.
"Our line blocked good to lead the running backs," said Vaivao.
Coach Sterling, who was Coach Scanlon's defensive coordinator on the Sweet Peas last season, explained that the Sharks came back in the fourth quarter of the last four games of their season. Vaivao was leading that charge and he knew why he was giving it his best shot out there.
"Because I know the games were important to my team," said Vaivao.
Asu, a cornerback and tight end, defensive and offensive sides of the ball, respectively, explained Sterling's coaching role.
"He makes us work hard and doesn't make us give up," said Asu.
Explaining last year's championship run, and all that coming back from being behind late in the game, Asu said, "Everyone worked hard and no one gave up."
Explaining football and Asu's love of the sport, he said, "If you're mad, you can take it out on another person."
In a healthy way?
"Yeah," said Asu.
Savelio is a little different than the boys out there playing -- OK, she's a lot different -- and that status of a female in a dominantly male arena doesn't shake Savelio one bit.
"I like to hit," said Savelio.
Hit the boys?
"Yeah, it's fun to hit the boys," she said.
It's been practices only so far with the jamboree not until the end of this month followed by the season opener the first week of September that will include home games along the way at Highline Stadium. But hitting in practice works for Savelio, and first year player Willie Vainikolos, for Sterling's team.
"I like tackling," said Vainikolos, "You get to hit hard."
Besides the 3rd-4th graders division that should make some noise again, the 1st-2nd graders should make a splash, too, with their coach, Michael Dixon, who goes by "Coach Mike," leading the way.
The youngest age division won the regular season before losing in the playoffs, 6-2, to the CV Panthers. But, that was without Coach Dixon at the helm as he was head of the 7th-8th graders last year, taking that SKC Juniors team to a second place, 7-6, loss to the CV Panthers. Just a snap by the Sharks' center that sailed over the quarterback's head and led to a Panthers defensive lineman running after and scooping up the ball for a 48-yard fumble return for a touchdown.
"They didn't score any offensive touchdowns against us," said Dixon. "It was real windy that day."
Said head coach Scanlon of that team, "We had a bad snap in the shotgun an the wind pulled the ball."
So, that was that day, and that division, as Scanlon moved up and Dixon moved down the age brackets. Dixon is now in charge of the 1st-2nd graders division and he's teaching them big things though they are little in size and age.
"This team is not going to believe what they see," said Dixon. "They are going to run a wing 'T' offense, which is the same offense the Juniors ran last year."
So, age six and seven for first and second graders, to age 13 and 14 for seventh and eighth graders, it just doesn't matter to Dixon. He's going to teach these little kids that kind of 'O.'
A wing 'T' offense is where the quarterback is flanked by two running backs, with a fullback option there, too, so four capable runners in the backfield.
At this age, and, all ages, really, it's been proven by statisticians that passes only get completed 20 percent of the time, even at the highest age level, but that's not thwarting Dixon one bit. He thinks he's got a 7-year-old who can play the part of pass-master.
"I have a quarterback who can throw the ball 30 yards," said Dixon, who knows football more than just as head coach of the Juniors that went 14-2 and nearly won the championship last season. Dixon has been offensive coordinator for a semipro team, the Renton Ravens, and coached at Chief Sealth last year. And Dixon has been involved coaching the likes of USC and San Francisco Giants player Taylor Mays, who played high school ball at O'Dea, and coached former Huskies players, too, like Joey and Jack Ferguson. So, a nice ledger there.
Sharks players Dixon mentioned would be like quarterback Free Salinas, who can strong arm that football and who can run, too. But the fastest of the Sharks in this division is Elijah Jones.
"I like his knowledge of learning fast and the speed that he has," said Dixon.
Then, mentioning others of that wing 'T' offense, including fullback Papa Faeletoto.
Not just the offense is going to be smart either for Dixons' young team, the defense will know a thing or two about football's finer things.
"They will understand a cover 2 defense and cover zone, and cover 1," said Dixon.
Some of his players like Jones spoke out, not bashful though not tall enough yet even to ride on the big rollercoaster at the Puyallup Fair.
Jones thinks his team is going to be good for one good reason, at least.
"Because we listen to the coach," said Jones, with Dixon smiling nearby.
And running the ball is not as easy as it looks. Fumbles do happen.
"They're teaching me how to run, how to tuck in the football," said Jones.
There's a lot going to be under the hood of Dixon's mind in teaching these kids football, even stretching things out to a spread offense, which is four wide receivers and one running back in the backfield with the quarterback.
And, one of the guys jumping up to catch passes from Salinas' long bombs downfield will be Dixon's son, Michael Dixon Jr.
"He has the ability to go up and get the ball. And, he did that in several games throughout the season last year."
So, that's the youngest members of the Sharks franchise thus discussed, and now to the oldest, where head coach Al Scanlon has taken his sweet winning form and act with the six and seven year olds to the 13 and 14 year olds.
Just a ton of talent returns, too, off that team last year that lost so close to the Panthers, by a single point,7-6, as previously said.
"We have 28 returners," said Scanlon.
The team will play an offense, too, that's a little like the phrase, "Catch me if you can."
"We run a read zone," said Scanlon. "We are showing the defense where we are going."
That means it's all about players getting into proper blocking and positioning, and this team, with its strong corp, and, core of returners knows how to do all that.
Experience should trump everything else for this team that just missed the championship trophy.
Leading the returners is quarterback Elijah Barnes.
The lanky 6-foot plus Barnes was humble speaking of his own talents, putting the pressure, so to speak, on others who helped him last season and this season will too.
They are the guys who got his back and his front and his sides, the line.
"We have a good offensive line," said Barnes. "And, power backs ran the ball a lot."
Some of those linemen protecting Barnes included Fia Kamoto and Sua Taupole. Scanlon also mentioned some others quickly, Mark Tafia, a running back, and, Bubba Ulugala, a linebacker, of a team Scanlon's looking forward to seeing develop greatly from so close to greatness last season.
But first things first, too, Scanlon quickly pointed out, not wanting to put the proverbial cart before the horse.
"We want to take it one game at a time," said Scanlon. "We are big on development."
And, also, Scanlon said, of development, "We are hopeful of first-year players coming in and helping, like twins Alex and Alan Lai."
So Scanlon is ready to mold and make this team the same fashionable excellence as he, Dixon, other coaches made the Sweet Peas.
Gearing up, too, for this Sharks season in the Nisqually with the likes of the Puyallup Vikings, and Fife Trojans, and, other Puget Sound area teams, is the the 5th-6th graders, headed by head coach Kendall Lewis.
"It's my first year coaching Junior Football, but we are going to be doing things right," said Lewis. "New system. New coaches. New attitude."
Lewis mentioned that the Junior Football leagues around the United States are learning things newly as all coaches go through certification training for being coaches as well as online testing for learning safety and equipment type things.
"We are teaching them how to play football the right way," said Lewis.
Heads Up USA Football is the new way for coaches all over the USA to teach players, teaching them how to tackle and not injure, like how not to lead with the head and tackling with head above shoulders which, in the National Football League now will get a player a hefty fine levied, and, even suspension, for dangerous tackling.
But Lewis is really going to try and turn this division around which is the only one of the four Sharks' divisions that did not make the playoffs last season, with it's 2-7 record.
Lewis related that the quarterback position is going to be a dogfight as well as a teamwork effort.
"We have two quarterbacks competing for playing time," said Lewis. "Both are neck and neck right now."
Tyler Ma'alona and Elijah Scanlon are the two QBs competing and though one might win out the starting spot over the other, both will play, for obvious reasons.
"Both have great up sides," said Lewis. "Elijah is speedier, a little more mobile, and, still with good arm strength. And, Tyler has a strong arm, and is a leader. I will use a dual QB option."
Lewis also mentioned Stephon Faletogo, for wide receiver, catching the ball from Scanlon and Ma'alona.
"Athlete," said Lewis. "I can play him all over the field."
And Matthew Leasau, also, will do things to help this 3rd-4th graders division by protecting the passers, who are Scanlon and Ma'alona, back there. Leasau is a 6-foot-3, 230-pound offensive and defensive lineman.
"Beast," said Lewis. "That's my power."
Scanlon, one of those two quarterbacks, likes his coaching staff's help.
"They help us do what we need help with and tackling and getting plays right," he said.
And the power of voices will help the Sharks, too, as the cheerleaders were out practicing too and one of the young ladies, Brooklyn Presley, is ready to cheer on the boys. There is a division competition she looks forward to this season against other franchise's cheerleaders in the Nisqually League at the end of the season.
"It will be good going to a division competition at the end of the season and since it's football season, we will cheer at the football games and all that stuff," said Presley, the niece of president Presley, who's under the cheer coaching leadership of Halle Perry. "Last year, one of our teams won the superbowl (championship). So we will try to cheer them on to win again."
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