Pendleton Junior Football League continues to grow
PENDLETON — The Arabians football family is continuing to grow.
Pendleton Heights middle and high school coaches, along with a large group of high school players, led their future teams and successors at the Pendleton Junior Football League Camp, conducted July 26-28 at the PJFL fields.
The PJFL had its largest-ever group of campers with 250 youngsters ranging from kindergarten to eighth grade.
PJFL President Troy McKinley said there were nearly 200 from his league along with around 50 middle school players learning and honing football skills, with drills led by Arabians head coach Jed Richman, his staff and players.
“It was outstanding,” said Richman, who is beginning his sixth season as the high school head coach. “We have record numbers throughout our program, K to 12. We’re still far from where we could be.
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“This is a great community, and that’s one of the things that interested me so much in moving here and the opportunity to lead the football program. It’s a great wholesome community with good people that have high values and expectations. Camp reflected that.”
This year’s group was significantly more than the last camp in 2019, which had 189 campers.
McKinley said PJFL has a record-high 230 children signed up for this year’s season. With the addition of close to 60 at the middle school level and more than 100 high school players, the entire Arabians football family of players is nearly 400 strong.
At camp, each day started off with stretching exercises led by the high school players. After that, they broke into divisions with flag players (K-2), third- and fourth-grade players, fifth- and sixth-grade players, and middle-schoolers.
Coaches and high school players led the divisions, teaching football safety, fundamentals, plays and basic football knowledge.
“The high school kids are true role models to our league. It’s neat to watch them interact with the future Arabians that are coming up through the program. That interaction means the world to those kids in the PJFL. They look up to them so much,” McKinley said.
“It was a lot of fun,” Pendleton Heights senior quarterback Luke Candiano said. “It’s different. Normally I’m getting the coaching. Being able to share my skills I’ve learned from the years I’ve played football to all the kids was really enjoyable. Seeing them improve over that short three-day span was really encouraging.
“We were all getting into it, sweating through our shirts,” Candiano added of his and his teammates’ coaching experience. “We’re going just as hard as they were because it was so much fun watching them enjoying playing football as much as we do. Football is such a great game to play, and seeing them learn and improve day-by-day was really awesome.”
McKinley added that he had talked to Richman about having some of those high school players come back on Saturdays during PJFL games to root on the kids they worked with at camp.
It’s another way the Arabians are building program camaraderie and culture from the youngest Arabians to the oldest, as well as with coaching staffs from the youth levels to high school.
“It definitely builds a brotherhood,” Richman added on the connections established among players and coaches.
“We’re really trying to build a program focus from kindergarten all the way up to the high school level,” McKinley added.
Practice for the upcoming season for all teams began last week. Saturday, Aug. 14, will be Arabian Football Program Day with controlled scrimmages for the flag, elementary, middle school and junior varsity teams.
It’s an inaugural event that Richman hopes will be the first of many.
“It’s important. I see all these guys as part of our team and part of the program,” Richman said. “They need to feel that. There’s something about being in a team sport where there’s nostalgia and there’s emotion. Those are the things that make it special sometimes. We’re not just doing it to do it. We’re doing it as a tradition that we’re starting so that people are connected — parents, community and players. It’s something I think is important and another way to connect the levels.”
“Culture is huge with us,” McKinley added. “We’re really pushing that, and I think it’s at an all-time high. You can just feel it, and it’s phenomenal to see.
“I can’t thank the high school staff and the players enough for what they put together and the opportunity they gave to our kids and the middle school kids. There aren’t a lot of schools that can put on a program like this, and camp like this, and I think we’re going to be a much better program for it.”