The future Peyton Mannings, Marshawn Lynches and Calvin Johnsons will take to the gridiron for the first time this weekend when the Williams Lake Sabrecats Minor Football Team makes its debut.
Head coach Dionte Jelks, assistant coaches Bill Gilroy, Ryan Winnacott and Peter Bowman, plus 15 players (14 boys and one girl) aged seven to nine have joined the Prince George Minor Football League in the atom division and will face Vanderhoof this Saturday in the Spruce City.
The league is comprised of teams from Williams Lake, Vanderhoof, Prince George and Quesnel.
“They’re pretty excited,” said Jelks, who’s been involved in football in one fashion or another for close to 30 years. “There’s going to be some little growing pains, but for the most part they’re getting everything down pat and they’re excited to play.”
Conditioning began in January, then the team moved to flag football in the spring. Now, they’re making their first foray into full-contact football.
Jelks has been working on fundamentals with his players, and said he hopes to continue to grow minor football in the lakecity as the years pass.
“I was going crazy for a while and had to get football going,” he said. “I’m huge into football, so it’s been an undertaking of getting it here.”
Jelks played his elementary and high school football in Chicago, Ill., then moved on to play post-secondary football at MacMurray College in Jaxonville, Ill.
When his wife found employment in Victoria they moved to B.C. where Jelks coached the Mount Doug Rams to a B.C. ‘AA’ provincial high school football championship, before moving to Williams Lake three years ago.
“We’ve got a lot of first-year players,” he said.
“When you start up a football program you want to build it up from a minor level so when they get to high school they’ll hit the ground running and know what they’re doing.
“It’s better to start with the little guys and build it up.”
He added so far his players are responding well to his coaching style.
“They like the type of football I’m teaching,” he said.
“I’m not watering it down — all fundamentals — pretty far ahead to be this young and they’re doing well.”
After Saturday’s game against Vanderhoof the team will travel to Quesnel for two consecutive weekends to continue the season.
And on Sept. 27 the team will make its home debut at the Williams Lake Thompson Rivers University field on Sept. 27 against Prince George.
The players and Jelks hope the community comes out in full force to support them in their home opener.