A single portable spotlight provided the only light on a football field at Union High School this week as the middle school boys who play for the Evergreen Bulldogs Pop Warner team repeated exercises that became routine shortly after the team's first practice back in August.
Temperatures in the 40s and a chilling breeze did nothing to cool the enthusiasm as the players moved crisply from drill to drill.
"It feels great," quarterback Lincoln Victor said. "We're the only team that's doing this right now."
Did you know?
Game time: The quarterfinal game against the Loveland (Colo.) Titans kicks off at 10 a.m. PST on Saturday. Win or lose they will play a second game on Tuesday. If they win their first two games, they will play on Friday, Dec. 7 for a national championship.
On the web: ESPN3.com
About the Bulldogs: Most players are 11-years-old and in the sixth grade. Players attend Cascade, Covington, Frontier, Pacific, Shahala and Wy’East middle schools, and St. Joseph’s Catholic School.
It helps, too, that the Bulldogs are the first youth football team from Washington state to travel to the Pop Warner Super Bowl tournament — and that the tournament will be played at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex that is part of Walt Disney World near Orlando, Fla., where temperatures in the 70s and a quarterfinal opponent from Loveland, Colo. will greet the Vancouver boys.
The Bulldogs play in the Pee Wee Division for players ages 9-11, plus 12-year-olds who weigh less than 100 pounds. They are one of eight team in their division to qualify for Pop Warner's national tournament. They won their spot by beating the South Marin Broncos 14-0 in a Nov. 17 playoff game in Santa Clara, Calif.
That result might have surprised folks from the Bay Area, which has dominated Pop Warner's Pacific Northwest Region.
But it did not surprise the Bulldogs.
"I knew it was going to happen," said Joseph Siofele, a Shahala Middle School sixth-grader whose two touchdowns highlighted the playoff win.
The Bulldogs anticipated arriving as a Super Bowl tournament qualifier based on past experience — many of these same players were on the team that won a playoff game in California last year but fell one win short of reaching Florida — and months of demanding practices led by head coach Brandon Victor and his assistants: Cameron Cox, Charbonneau Gourde, Mike Miller, James Gama, Kapono Victor and Buzz Duell.
The nucleus of this Bulldogs team is in its sixth season playing Pop Warner together. To that core, this team this year added several players who are in their second season in the Pee Wee Division.
Led by a defense that has allowed opponents only 34 points, the Bulldogs have won all 11 of their games this season. Aside from the playoff win, their toughest competition came from the North County Wildcats of Battle Ground, a team they played three times in the local Pop Warner league.
To win the Super Bowl championship, the Bulldogs must win three games in a span of seven days.
Games consist of four 10-minute quarters, and most of the rules mirror high school football.
With 26 players, each of them must know multiple positions on offense and defense. Some start on both sides of the ball, and all must be prepared at multiple positions on offense, defense and special teams.
That preparation came in several practices each week beginning on a warm evening in early August.
Lincoln Victor said he remembers this season's first practice like it was yesterday.
"It was the hardest day of my life," he said. "Hard work. Sweat. It was hot, 80 degrees."
The week ahead promises more lasting memories for the quarterback and his teammates. They will play football games that will be shown to the world in the internet via ESPN3.com.
They will have a chance to enjoy Walt Disney World.
And, yes, they will have daily study hall time to keep up with missed school work.
"I see us having fun," said Jordan Cook, a Shahala Middle School sixth-grader who plays receiver and defensive back. "When it comes to football, I think we're going to do good, play our game and try to win."