Jr. Blue Devils Program Offers Football to MRH Youth
A new youth football program teaches players the fundamentals at an early age while stressing the importance of finishing your homework.
North St. Louis County — Recent Maplewood Richmond Heights High School football teams have been going deeper into the playoff season. Now, thanks to a new youth football program, the future is looking even brighter.
In previous years, the MRH Middle School hadn't offered a tackle football team to feed experienced blockers, tacklers, runners and passers into the freshmen class. A group of area coaches and parents decided to do something about it, and created the St. Louis Jr. Blue Devils—a community-based tackle football program for the community's youth.
In its first season, 78 little and not so little Blue Devils signed up. They practice three times each week at Endicott Park in north St. Louis County.
MRH head coach Brandon Gregory said he'll like having players come into the high school that he won't have to teach the basics to.
"You can actually teach them high school stuff instead of having to show them how to tackle, for example," he said.
He likes that boys will be playing with each other when they're 7-years-old, instead of being scattered around various programs in the city and county.
"They learn stuff, but they don't have the camaraderie," he said. "But now ... by the time they're seniors in high school they're going to be comfortable playing with each other, because they've been doing it for half of their life."
The boys are divided into four age groups: ages 7-8, 9-10, 11-12 and 13-14. They all play in the St. Louis Junior Football League, where they meet the likes of the Mathews-Dickey Bulldogs, Herbert Hoover Eagles, University City Lions and theSt. Louis Recreation Rams. These teams provide tough competition, but that's no problem for the Blue Devils.
"They definitely play tackle football," said Cornell Simmons, the dad of a 9-year-old player, who grew up playing in north St. Louis City. "They love the big hits, the long touchdown runs. Oh yeah! I love watching younger kids trying to play football just the way I did. I love every minute of it."
Getting to know football is important, but that's not all they learn.
Lee Robinson Sr., president of the St. Louis Jr. Blue Devils Youth Association, said the program teaches the players responsibility, accountability, respect and confidence—all the things he calls the fundamentals.
Susan Love said it keeps her son on top of his homework.
"The rules are: good grades, he gets football," she said.
And the coaches are just as tough. If the grades aren't there, the boys have to sit out of games—the same as in high school.
"We try to instill in them a sense of responsibility," said Rich Dabney, who coaches 13-14-year-old players. "We like to win every game, but our real desire is to teach the guys how to play the right way."