For Bruins, there are no limits on the football field

AT PLAY

Youth program allows bigger kids to tackle the basics of sports and have some fun, too

August 23, 2006|By JEFF SEIDEL | JEFF SEIDEL,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

The Howard County Bruins went through a typical preseason football workout Monday night at Long Reach High School. Much of the practice was spent working on fundamentals.

But the Bruins are different than other youth teams because of their size -- that is, the size of their players. In fact, a motto on their Web site neatly summarizes one of the club's goals: "Let the big guys play."

In most communities, there's a size/weight limit for children, often around 150 pounds, participating in youth football. The Bruins were formed five years ago and are part of the Mid-Atlantic Unlimited Youth Football Association, a league for bigger children.

Those associated with the Bruins make it clear that this is not a program for heavy kids, something that is easy to see at any practice. These athletes, while big for their age, are athletic and can play the game.

"They're just bigger," said Bruins head coach Randy Hall. "In today's society, a lot of kids are just larger, and where they're looked at as being fat, they're not. They just have things like bigger bone structure."

Hall points out a player from the team's early days as an example. At the age of 13, he was 6 foot 6, 345 pounds and had a size 18 shoe. He joined the Bruins and went on to play high school football.

"We're really filling a void that the youth programs with weight limits [cause]," Hall said. "We're conscious of the sizes of the kids, and we want them to have a good match-up [on the field]."

The Bruins have about 85 players who are put on junior varsity or varsity teams, depending on their skill level. The season starts early September and ends in November.

Hall said the Bruins often get players for a year or two just before they enter high school.

Anthony Ernest played with the Columbia Ravens for two years, but the Wilde Lake Middle School eighth-grader went over the weight limit, and his family decided that the Bruins would be good for him.

"I know that he's going to play against kids that are bigger now," said his father, Peter Ernest. "But he's going to be playing against bigger kids in high school next year, so it's a great lead-in to [that]."

Ernest plays running back and middle linebacker, but might have to make a slight adjustment this season. The 13-year-old has been learning the outside linebacker position that will test his quickness and speed.

He welcomes the challenge.

"I feel good because I get to play with the bigger guys, and I know I'm not overweight," he said. "I'm comfortable with the league I'm in. I'm getting the experience of playing with the bigger guys and handling that now."

Peter Collins Jr. is an offensive lineman who hopes to play at Wilde Lake High next fall. The 13-year-old eighth-grader at Our Lady of Perpetual Help School is in his third year with the Bruins, a program he is glad to have found two years ago.

"I get to play before high school, and I'm not just sitting around and waiting for high school to come so I can play," he said. "It's been really fun. It's taught me quite a bit."

Quarterback Ryan Mitchell worked his way up to first string last year after beginning his Bruins' career the previous season as an offensive lineman, and the 13-year-old can throw the ball. He has a touch on the short passes and can hit the receivers cutting across the middle or going deep.

Ryan's father, Steve Mitchell, is team administrator, taking care of the paperwork that keeps the Bruins going.

He loves doing that because of what the team means to his favorite quarterback.

"It's helped him both physically and mentally, and he enjoys it," Steve Mitchell said.

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