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Placer players foster future stars

Junior Hillmen get a helping hand from senior counterparts
By: Ray Hacke Journal Sports Writer
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The teenager in the grayish-blue T-shirt and green Placer High gym shorts hardly comes across as an authority figure as he stands near a group of football players watching their teammates practice. Not much older and certainly not much taller than most of the players he called teammates barely a year ago, he seems more like the players’ buddy, especially when he gives them occasional supportive claps on the shoulder pads. But when Tony Suverkropp tells a player bigger than he is to hustle off the field, the player immediately picks up the pace. The player obviously knows Suverkropp is someone he must listen to. Suverkropp is one of several Placer High freshman, junior varsity and varsity football players who are serving as youth instructors for the Jr. Hillmen, Placer’s feeder program. According to Jr. Hillmen president Todd Peek, the league the organization plays in, Sierra Youth Football and Cheer, allows participating members to have two youth instructors per team it puts on the field. The Jr. Hillmen have five teams: Suverkropp and Michael Robinson help out with the Midgets; Jacob Peek works with the Jr. Midgets; Casey Yunk and Jake Lewis assist with the Pee Wee team; Ben Vasquez and D.J. Rodriguez work with the Jr. Pee Wees; and Anthony Trull and Grady Waller help coach the youngest group, the Mighty Mites. “I try to get the kids at the high school to come back and help out because of the experience they’ve had here,” said Todd Peek, who also serves as an assistant coach with the Jr. Midgets. “The kids who are 8 to 10 years old, the smaller kids, look up to ‘em.” Next week the youth instructors will officially begin practicing with their high school teams. They’ll practice for three hours after school, then change out of their gear and spend another two hours coaching the players who hope to one day follow in their footsteps at Placer. “The hardest part for me will be keeping up with my homework and everything,” said Suverkropp, who will play linebacker for the Hillmen’s freshman team this fall. “But I think I’ll be able to pull it off.” Todd Peek said coaching younger players actually helps the high schoolers become better players themselves. “As a youth instructor out there instructing kids, you’ve got to have things down so you can instruct them,” he said. “If a 10-year-old says, ‘Why do you do it?’ you have to be able to answer ‘em.” Placer High’s teams will also benefit in other ways. The Jr. Hillmen run the same Wing-T offense Placer’s varsity team does — and some of the players the youth instructors work with may one day be varsity teammates. “It’s nice to get to help out guys you’ll be playing with your junior and senior years,” said Robinson, who will play fullback and linebacker for Placer’s freshman team. Although the kids Robinson works with were his teammates a year ago, he said they have no trouble respecting him as a coach. “The guys look up to me,” he said. “I’m their friend and stuff, and if I say something they usually listen.” It helps, Todd Peek said, that Robinson is “one of the best running backs we’ve ever had here.” Last season Robinson rushed for more than 2,000 yards and 26 touchdowns and earned a trip to the inaugural Football University Youth All-American Army Bowl in San Antonio, Texas. Robinson said he enjoys the idea of contributing to the Jr. Hillmen program’s future success — even though he’s moved on to the high school level. “Learning to be a coach is what I’m doing,” he said. “I wouldn’t call myself a coach yet because I don’t have the skill. But I’m learning how.” Ray Hacke can be reached at rayh@goldcountrymedia.com.