The North Lake Tahoe Pop Warner Rams opened their season at the Sagebrush-Empire Pop Warner League’s Al Barbieri Jamboree in Fallon this past Saturday.
The entire League assembles in a carnival atmosphere of fun activities, food, camradarie and football scrimmages between 59 teams at six age levels between 5 and 14 year old. This year the Rams are fielding two teams, the Mitey-Mites (ages 7-9) and Pee Wees (ages 10-12).
The Rams have had only two teams for three years now, but participation continues to grow.
“Every year we get closer and closer to adding teams,” said Scott Wilderman, North Lake Tahoe Pop Warner president. “This year we did something unprecedented and combined the two highest-level teams, Jr. Midget and Unlimited, with Truckee Pop Warner, so an additional 16 North Tahoe kids could play football.”
“So even though we still have just two Ram football teams this year, we are back to two cheer squads and for me, the big number is the growth of total participation. Including the Truckee ‘merger’ kids, our program is up from 53 to 72 North Tahoe kids participating in youth football and cheer. It won’t be too many more years before we have kids playing at four or five levels, all here in North Tahoe. That’s great for the future of our high school programs, which are currently facing declining football participation.”
First-year head coach Russ Levin of the Mitey Mites was impressed with the Rams and the annual jamboree, which hosted more than 2,000 players, cheerleaders and their families from all over the Reno/Tahoe and outlying areas.
“What a great day at the jamboree,” he said. “The team played some great, tough football. The players, coaches, families and fans had a wonderful time. Going to an event like a jamboree, you realize what a special organization Pop Warner is. I greatly thank all the league’s participants, parents, volunteers and fans, as well as the city of Fallon for hosting such a great event.”
The Mitey Mites’ (all rookies) highlight of the day on the field came on a crushing sack by outside linebacker Colton Murphy. The Pee Wees played in the next set of scrimmages and sent a shock wave through their division.
In a see-saw rumble with the Sparks Steelers, the Rams showed they could compete with anyone. In following scrimmages against Douglas and Reno North, the Rams completely dominated on both sides of the ball. Neither opponent could accomplish anything against the Rams’ defense or stop the Rams’ offensive attack.
“We have great respect and a tradition of fun times and good relationships with the coaches, players and administrators of these fine organizations,” Wilderman said. “It has been tough sledding for five years against these disciplined, well-coached teams, and their players are great sportsmen. They’ve taken it to us for a long time and I really believe they are a big part of what has made us a competitive team. This year we are proud to be in a position to give them a tough match-up. All the kids’ hard work is really, finally, paying off.”
The Rams’ defense racked up interceptions and fumble recoveries all day, including interceptions by Gage Pierce, a “pick-six” by Irving Perez and a scoop-fumble recovery for a touchdown by Joe Wilderman.
The defensive players were nearly indistinguishable from each other with everyone on the team making huge contributions. Nose guard Jack Reber spent the whole day in opponents backfields giving QBs few options beyond protecting the ball. All-purpose defensive player Jeffery “J-Train” Snyder was un-blockable at defensive tackle and linebacker, forcing opponents to change direction into the face of the relentless pursuit of his teammates.
On one play, rookie defensive back Jack Lyons’ blanket pass coverage caused a gang-sack of the Reno QB, who had nowhere to go with the ball. Rams defender Aidan Pretti put on a clinic stringing out a sweep to the sideline ending with a perfect form tackle for a loss. Douglas and Reno where both without options as the swarming Rams defense closed all gates and played extremely well as a team.
On the offensive side, the Rams’ punishing running attack up the middle opened up the outside and the passing game. Multiple Rams backs scored on rushing TDs and superior pass blocking by the Rams line gave QB Dylan Cleary all day to complete TD passes, two to Rams receiver Gage Pierce and one to JT Page.
Orion Barger also recorded his first pass reception. Thanks to the great blocking of all the Rams offensive lineman, all day, at the end of one sustained drive powered by a team of ball carriers, including power fullback Daniel Mendoza, Patrick Gulini scored on a short run inside, making it into the end zone on his feet nearly untouched.
Pee Wee assistant coach Erick Grammanz saw the fundamental difference between this year’s Rams and past teams.
“Our kids play great as a unit,” he said. “They are big, strong and in fantastic condition. We ran full speed all the time, during plays, to and from the huddle, and on and off the field. There’s nothing more a coach could ask for than that kind of hustle and teamwork.”
The Rams have two weeks to practice and rest over Labor Day to prepare for their season openers, traveling to Reno to take on the Wolfpack South Mitey Mites and the Wolfpack North Pee Wees in a jamboree rematch. For more information about North Lake Tahoe Pop Warner, visit www.northtahoepopwarner.com.