NFL fans are excited since players from all 32 teams recently reported to their respective training camps, an annual mark that the season is right around the corner.
Camp Verde Coyotes Youth Football players, cheerleaders, coaches and parents are excited, too, since the team began its practices on July 24.
“It’s been a blast. We have a great group of kids, we have a great group of coaches, everybody is happy to be out here,” head coach Ryan Turnbell said. “They want to be out here. They’re smiling, they’re learning. Ultimately that’s all it’s about, finding a love for the game.”
Turnbell and his staff started with about 69 players and cheerleaders.
There has been a drop in turnout mostly at the Mighty Mites level, which is for players 6 to 8 years old, Turnbell said. With school getting ready to begin soon, many families are on vacation and can come out later on.
But it is no coincidence that the decrease in players coincides with the increase of national media coverage of concussions stemming from playing tackle football.
“Honestly with the concussions, I think parents are kind of scared,” Turnbell said.
But the first week of practice had zero contact, because by mandate players are not allowed to put on pads and helmets until they complete 10 hours of conditioning.
Turnbell also said that USA Football is working toward redesigning how players hit and tackle to reduce the possibility of concussions. The Coyotes coaching staff is trained in this new way of making contact and then coaches the athletes accordingly in a controlled manner.
“As a coach it’s our job to put them strategically in the places to keep them from being hurt,” Turnbell said. “Taking a lot of contact out of practices, keeping it to a minimum to where they don’t experience that at practice.”
During the first couple of weeks the players, no matter the age or experience, are starting at the basics: Footwork, body control and conditioning. With the first game scheduled for Aug. 26, the players have plenty of time to prepare.
“To prepare them for high school, ultimately that’s what we’re here for. Get the kids to fall in love with the game and get them to be great in high school,” Turnbell said.
There are three groups: Mighty Mites, Minors [9 to 11 years old] and Majors [12 to 14 years old]. Rules vary between the different age groups; for example in Mighty Mites there are no turnovers on kickoffs and no blitzing.
Many players are experienced, and Turnbell is looking to have a successful season. Aside from winning games, he wants the players to get more out of the experience.
“As long as we’re competitive, I’m OK. As long as they have a fun experience, they fall in love with the game and they grow as an individual the way they act in the world, we’re big on that ... As long as we can steer them in that direction, then it’ll be a great season.”
Those interested are still welcome to join. The team practices at 5:30 p.m. at Butler Park.
The team is holding a spaghetti dinner fundraiser from 6 to 8 p.m. Aug. 12, at the Camp Verde old town gymnasium. The cost is $7 per adult and $5 per child, and 100 percent of the proceeds go back to Camp Verde Youth Football.