Photos: On the field with Seattle’s youth football stars

Beacon Hill Cowboy Junior Jarel Craig (center) and his teammates warm up before their game against the Renton Rangers. (Photo by Susan Fried)
Beacon Hill Cowboy Junior Jarel Craig (center) and his teammates warm up before their game against the Renton Rangers. (Photo by Susan Fried)

When pro football season kicks off this weekend, a few hundred elite players will take the field for NFL games watched by millions of fans.

But they all started somewhere. And for some, like Seattle-born NFL veterans like Corey Dillon, and Eric Metcalf, storied football careers started with youth teams in South Seattle.

Hundreds of boys and girls play football or cheer with the Greater Seattle Youth Football and Cheer League. The League, made up of nine neighborhood teams, mostly in South King County, offers the kids who participate a chance to learn sportsmanship and respect for others, improve their athletic abilities, make life-long friends and be mentored by dedicated members of the local community.

The Renton Rangers Junior team and cheerleaders watch the Seniors play against the Beacon Hill Cowboys in West Seattle on August 27th.
The Renton Rangers Junior team and cheerleaders watch the Seniors play against the Beacon Hill Cowboys in West Seattle on August 27th.
A Beacon Hill Cowboy receiver makes an athletic catch in their opening game against the Renton Rangers Senior squad.
A Beacon Hill Cowboy receiver makes an athletic catch in their opening game against the Renton Rangers Senior squad.
Beacon Hill Cowboy Junior Head Coach Allen Brooks talks with Junior QB Kade Bainbridge.
Beacon Hill Cowboy Junior Head Coach Allen Brooks talks with Junior QB Kade Bainbridge.

“I love football, it’s in me. It’s part of my life,” Central District Panther 89er’s Coach Shawn Thomas said, echoing the feelings of many other coaches and volunteers I spoke to. “Just giving back is the main thing. And not just giving back and teaching the kid’s football but teaching kid’s life skills.”

Many of the coaches played together as kids and are now coaching their own kids and the kids of their former teammates.

PAC Charger 89er Dixon Farmer Jr. takes off down the field in a practice game against the Benson Bruins on August 20th.
PAC Charger 89er Dixon Farmer Jr. takes off down the field in a practice game against the Benson Bruins on August 20th.
PAC Chargers 89er’s coach Dixon Farmer congratulates his son Dixon Jr. after the run.
PAC Chargers 89er’s coach Dixon Farmer congratulates his son Dixon Jr. after the run.

There are four age divisions in the league, Pee Wee (6-7), 89er’s (8-9), Juniors (10-11), and Seniors (12-13).

On game days all four divisions of each team usually play, starting with the Pee Wee’s at 9am and ending with the Seniors playing in the afternoon.

The Lake City team bursts through a banner held by their cheer squad before a game a few years ago.
The Lake City team bursts through a banner held by their cheer squad before a game a few years ago.
Kent Cobra player Josiah Long offers his teammates some water during half time of a 2012 game between the Cobra Peewees and the Rainier Eagle Peewees at Rainier play field. The Cobras went on to win the game 23 to 6.
Kent Cobra player Josiah Long offers his teammates some water during half time of a 2012 game between the Cobra Peewees and the Rainier Eagle Peewees at Rainier play field. The Cobras went on to win the game 23 to 6.
Rainier Eagle player Cash Jordan pursues Kent Cobra Myking Lee.
Rainier Eagle player Cash Jordan pursues Kent Cobra Myking Lee.

Although the coaches are serious about winning football games, the kids are supposed to have fun too, so during each game everyone gets to play. On some teams that can mean a lot of substitutions.

And with all the buzz about concussions and other football injuries, coaches and volunteers say they take player safety very seriously. But enthusiastic parents and coaches seem to see the benefits of learning life skills and being mentored as far outweighing the risks.

The CD Panther Peewees line up before taking the field against the SeaTac Sharks.
The CD Panther Peewees line up before taking the field against the SeaTac Sharks.
Johnny Rogers, quarterback for the CD Panthers 89er’s, prepares to throw a pass against the SeaTac Sharks
Johnny Rogers, quarterback for the CD Panthers 89er’s, prepares to throw a pass against the SeaTac Sharks
CD Panther Assistant Coach and Seattle Fire Chief Harold Scoggins helps make a splint for a player on the SeaTac Juniors team who was injured during the game.
CD Panther Assistant Coach and Seattle Fire Chief Harold Scoggins helps make a splint for a player on the SeaTac Juniors team who was injured during the game.

The adults who volunteer their time seem to get a lot out of it as well. CD Panther Assistant Senior Coach Harold Scoggins — who is also Seattle’s fire chief — talks about the importance of getting the kids “to commit to something.”

“Coaching football is about more than just the game,” he said. “It’s about impacting youth during their development.”

Players for the Rainier Eagles, whose team folded this year, bringing the league down to nine teams.
Players for the Rainier Eagles, whose team folded this year, bringing the league down to nine teams.
Brave Pride quarterback Quinten Chandler avoids a tackle during a game against the Rainier Eagles last year.
Brave Pride quarterback Quinten Chandler avoids a tackle during a game against the Rainier Eagles last year.
Beacon Hill Cowboy junior players Trenton Taylor, Jalil Jones, Dejean Bowens and De’Rai Taylor are consoled by coach Nate Bainbridge after their first loss of the season to the Renton Rangers.
Beacon Hill Cowboy junior players Trenton Taylor, Jalil Jones, Dejean Bowens and De’Rai Taylor are consoled by coach Nate Bainbridge after their first loss of the season to the Renton Rangers.
Beacon Hill Cowboy Senior Head Coach "Maddog" Justin Young talks with quarterback Quinton Jordan during a time out in their game against the Renton Rangers.
Beacon Hill Cowboy Senior Head Coach “Maddog” Justin Young talks with quarterback Quinton Jordan during a time out in their game against the Renton Rangers.
Byron Jones of the Cowboy Juniors waits on the bench before going back out on the field against the Renton Rangers.
Byron Jones of the Cowboy Juniors waits on the bench before going back out on the field against the Renton Rangers.
Rainier Raven Senior James Duncan, 13, follows some blockers down field in a game against rival, the Rainier Eagles in 2011.
Rainier Raven Senior James Duncan, 13, follows some blockers down field in a game against rival, the Rainier Eagles in 2011.
A South West Athletics Club Cougar helps his teammate with his helmet before a 2013 game against the Rainier Eagles.
A South West Athletics Club Cougar helps his teammate with his helmet before a 2013 game against the Rainier Eagles.
A Seattle Jr. Seahawks player runs to catch up to his teammates during the 2016 Umoja Fest Parade.
A Seattle Jr. Seahawks player runs to catch up to his teammates during the 2016 Umoja Fest Parade.
The CD Panthers Juniors celebrate a win over the SeaTac Sharks.
The CD Panthers Juniors celebrate a win over the SeaTac Sharks.
PAC Chargers Antoine Williams Jr. and Zyren Smith goof off after a practice game in 90+ degree heat at Chief Sealth High School in late August.
PAC Chargers Antoine Williams Jr. and Zyren Smith goof off after a practice game in 90+ degree heat at Chief Sealth High School in late August.
A CD Panther player leaves the field after the game against the SeaTac Sharks.
A CD Panther player leaves the field after the game against the SeaTac Sharks.

All photos by Susan Fried.

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