Conditioning is done and on Monday the Hilmar Youth Football Packers began their first week of practice as the Jr. Novice, Novice, JV and Varsity levels all laced up their cleats and padded up for the start of a fresh season.
Last year's teams at all four levels saw success as usual, with the Novice, JV and Varsity levels each reaching the postseason, but when it was all said and done, only the Novice teamhad won the Super Bowl.
“We are always very competitive at every level,” said Packers President and Varsity offensive coordinator Ray Santos.
Competing in the Trans Valley Youth Football League, the Packers at the Novice level were headed by coach Kyle Westmoreland and captured a 7-3 overall record during the regular season.
By the time the postseason had concluded, the team finished 10-3 after surging through the playoffs and eventually beating Mariposa in a 7-0 shutout for the championship.
“We were taller than most of the teams but also our hard work and determination helped us,” said Westmoreland. “But even though we lost we were able to get better.”
The Novice team returns 20 of its 30 players from last year and coach Westmoreland is convinced that his team will contend with the best.
“We should do well this year again with the group of kids we have,” he said. “We have both our quarterbacks back, and with a lot of returners I think we will be ok.”
Coach Westmoreland also returns seven of his 11 starters on the defensive side.
“I don't want to single anyone out because we expect to get playing time from everyone and we are only as good as our weakest link,” he added. “The defense is one of the deepest with many returners and this year any one single player can come out and do great. They all chase the ball.”
The Varsity team welcomes Santos as the man in charge of the offensive unit after coaching the JV level previously.
At the Varsity level, last year's team reached the Super Bowl after a 7-3 regular season finish and eventually lost to the Jr. Pride of Pitman.
“The game was a blowout,” said Santos. “We are back now with a mission and challenge that's for sure.”
The team has big numbers and some inexperienced players that never played before but coach Santos and his team are up for the task.
“I think we will have a good passing attack with a QB that I am excited about,” Santos said.
From JV, the team welcomes William Souza as the center and Jacob Canela as the running back and Aidan Azevedo as the number one wide receiver.
“We are really looking forward to how the team progresses,” Santos added.
Last year's JV team lost in the second round of the playoffs, just one game away from the Super Bowl after losing to the Patterson Palm City Reapers by six points.
Santos, who served as the team’s offensive coordinator throughout the season led the squad to a 6-4 regular season record, barely squeaking into the postseason.
The skill positions, which include running back and quarterback, are looking to be some strong points for this year’s JV team.
Now the team with nearly the same group is hoping to finish what they started after a fresh beginning.
“The kids were emotional about the loss but everyone was happy with the performance and they could see the growth from the beginning of the season to the end,” Santos added.
The Jr. Novice team does not take down a score or record but instead focuses on the fundamentals of football and the preparation for the kids in order to compete at the next level.
Head coach Dave Alvey has been the head man for three years.
“The goal is to get prepared for next level,” said Santos. “It’s a teaching format for the kids. No playoffs or All-Stars for these kids but instead getting them prepared.