By Gail Wood
And as he’s moving players into position on defense, telling them their responsibilities, something amazing happened. They listened.
“That’s the strength to this team,” Briggs said.
They’re listeners and doers. And they’re not too bad at blocking and tackling. The Cougars, the team Briggs has coached for three years since taking over for his dad, will play in the championship game Saturday in the Black Hills Junior Football League.
It’s been an impressive season for the undefeated Cougars. Off to a 7-0 start, they’ve not allowed a touchdown, outscoring opponents 143-0. On Saturday, the Cougars, a team made of second, third and fourth graders, will play the Tornadoes at 1:00 p.m. at South Sound Stadium.
The Black Hills Junior Football League, which has 24 teams and was started in 1994, will have games all day Saturday at South Sound Stadium.
“With these guys, there’s no talking back,” Briggs said about his team. “You tell these kids things and they’ll line up exactly as you want. They just do what you ask them to do.”
The go-power to the Cougars’ offense has been the one-two punch of running backs Tevion Blakely and Brooklyn Hicks. Blakely, who is now a fourth grader and started playing football as a second grader, has been his team’s end zone finder this season. He’s scored 13 touchdowns this season.
“I’ve learned to follow my blockers and not just run off by myself,” Tevion said. “My first year I didn’t make a touchdown. My second year I thought I could do better.”
And he did.
“He’s the Marshawn Lynch of the group,” Briggs said. “He’s a hard runner. He gets the yards.”
Briggs, following in the footsteps of his dad, Doug Briggs Sr., got involved in coaching six years ago when he was a junior at North Thurston High School. That year he turned out for the school’s football team, playing offensive and defensive tackle for the Rams’ coach, Rocky Patchin. In 2011, a year after graduating from high school, he took over for his dad and became head coach of the Cougars.
“Doug has totally restructured the team. From year one to year three,” said Don Blakely, Tevion’s dad. “The offense. The defense. He’s done a great job.”
Don, who grew up in South Carolina and has been in the Army for 20 years, didn’t get the chance his son got to play football growing up. Besides the fun of playing football and the excitement of being on an undefeated team, Don said he hopes his son is learning some life’s lessons from playing a game.
“I just hope he learns the concept of teamwork,” Don said. “And watching him from year one to year three, he’s really learned the concept of teamwork.”
Teamwork, playing together, has been something Briggs has emphasized all season. Everyone has to do their assignment for a play to work. They’re a group of kids who have learned to win and play together.
“Everyone is pulling together,” Briggs said. “On the field and off the field. The kids have become friends.”
The players have had sleepovers at each other’s homes. They’ve gotten to know each other off the practice field, building that team unity. Winning has also helped link them.
“Winning gets them even more excited,” Briggs said.
Interestingly, of the 21 players on the Cougars team, most of them are third graders, not fourth graders. Briggs said he’s got seven fourth graders, 12 third graders and two second graders.
“We’re one of the youngest teams in the league,” Briggs said.
So, the Cougars aren’t loaded with older players, winning with experience and bigger players. They’ve won with a dominate defense. Key players on their defense are “Q” Merchant, the Cougars’ middle linebacker. Then Eli Ensminger and D.J. Moore are both defensive tackles who put pressure on the quarterback and on opponent’s offense.
“These two kids can burst through the line,” Briggs said. “They can get to the quarterback before a play can even start. We’re really a fast defense. That’s one of the reasons we don’t give up many yards.” The Cougars have allowed just five first downs all season.
Conditioning is also a big part of the Cougars’ success. “We do a lot of sprints at practice,” Briggs said. “A lot endurance. I do it with the kids. I show them that I’ll never have them do something that I can’t physically do.”
Defensively, the Cougars bring a lot of pressure, blitzing linebackers. They use four defensive linemen and five linebackers.
“But we have a lot of different packages out of it though,” Briggs said. “We bounce around a lot. We don’t like to keep the same packages out there.”
It’s been a winning formula for the Cougars.