The Denair Lions Youth Football program is striving for success all around as the four levels of play head into the 2015 year with their eyes set on building off last season's improvement.
The Jr. Novice, Novice, JV and Varsity levels took to the field in the first week of August as they began their regular season practice a week after concluding their conditioning session.
Lions President Joe Prock said the teams are heading into the new year with high hopes of winning the Trans Valley Youth Football League over local rivals, the Hilmar Packers and the Jr. Pride.
“Overall, last year was a successful and competitive year,” Prock said. “We were physical at all levels against other teams, that is for sure, even though we were definitely undersized. This year we are improved and expect good things.”
Of all levels, the Varsity team saw the most success in 2014, with a 7-4 overall record, including a semifinal berth in the playoffs.
“I thought we had a team that could potentially make it all the way and win the Super Bowl, but that's why you play, sometimes you win some and other times you don't,” said Varsity head coach Kevin Starkey. “But the kids played hard and had fun, that's what it's all about.”
The team now boasts 30 kids for the 2015 year, including eight first-year players.
“These kids who return have been playing for a while and they are a tight knit group who are athletic, so I have high hopes for this season,” Starkey said. “We should be in the playoffs and I don't see why we can't win the Super Bowl.”
The team's skill positions such as the fullbacks and quarterback will be the strong points for the Varsity Lions roster, Starkey added.
Ron Martinez heads the JV team that comes off a 4-7 record last year.
“We just missed the playoffs,” said Martinez. “We were in all the games except for one blowout.”
Five of the losses were by seven points or less and with a bigger team this year, coach Martinez knows how to handle the situation to come out atop.
“My line is my strongest point,” said Martinez who only returns four players from last season. “It's about teaching kids and developing and that is what we look at it as. Hopefully, we can keep kids here in Denair and build the program the way it should be.”
Novice head coach Joey Rocha takes over after spending last season heading the Jr. Novice squad and is excited about the new opportunity.
“There was an opening so I decided to go up and coach the squad,” said Rocha who got involved three years ago and serves as the Denair Lions Vice President. “It's fun and the boys moving up are excited.”
Rocha takes over a team that made it into the first round of the playoffs before being eliminated.
“The team that I have this year is the team of most of the kids I coached my first year so we have our whole team together with the addition of some new kids,” Rocha said. “We have a lot of talent.”
So much talent that Rocha boasts seven kids who can play quarterback and running back.
“That is a good problem to have,” he said laughing. “So our goal is to play football till the end of November, which is when we have our Super Bowl and that is the goal that I set for them.”
The Jr. Novice does not record any sort of stats or keep track of the score, but instead focus on growing and preparing the kids for the next step in football.
This year's head coach is Casey Quinn who is heading the youngest team of the bunch and will be hoping for a creative and progressing season.
Denair's first game is set for Saturday against Ripon Christian at home with a time yet to be announced.