For Kole Kavanaugh, Jag Football Camp is routine.
Now an eighth-grader at Ferrucci Junior High, Kavanaugh has attended the camp — which is open to area youth in grades kindergarten to eighth grade —since its inception in 2010.
And, to cap off his sixth year, Kavanaugh made a game-winning deflection to lead his scrimmage team to a league championship.
“I saw it coming, and I was like, ‘Oh please, knock it down,’” Kavanaugh said. “And I just hit it, and I was so excited.”
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The 180 campers competed in three scrimmage leagues at Emerald Ridge High School from July 6 to 8 — kindergarten to third grade, fourth and fifth grade, and sixth to eighth grade. Each of the 18 teams, which consisted of about 10 campers apiece, played seven games during the three-day period. The top two teams from each league advanced to a championship playoff.
Kavanaugh’s team, the Cowboys, finished 5-2 to earn the No. 2 seed in their championship matchup with the No. 1-seeded Seahawks.
Kavanaugh tossed two touchdowns on a play he drew up with his teammates — two players would shovel the ball around before Kavanaugh shot for the end zone.
“I was thinking just like a flea flicker, and do it twice,” Kavanaugh said. “Since I’m quarterback, I went around behind one of our players, and I took the ball, and just saw one of the guys and threw it up there for him.”
The Seahawks evened the score at 2-2 on their offensive possession, sending the game into sudden death — an offensive score would win, or a defensive stop would win.
As the higher seed, the Seahawks chose the offensive possession. On the snap, Kavanaugh rushed toward the right corner of the end zone, and leapt in front of the receiver to tip the ball out of reach.
“They had some pretty athletic players, so we double-teamed their best player and it ended up working, and we ended up stopping them,” said Michael Beardemphl, an ER sophomore receiver who co-coached the Cowboys.
Two or three players from the high school program coached each of the scrimmage teams. Of the 165-man roster, about 50 players volunteered to help with the camp.
“It’s just awesome because you have all the high school kids, and you go Friday nights and watch them,” said junior quarterback Logan Skoda, who attended the camp before playing on ER’s varsity team. “Having them come back and spending time with you and watching you — it means a lot to you as a little kid. You look up to them, and they’re like heroes to you.”
Which is exactly the kind of attitude ER’s five-man head coaching staff — Brian Anderson, Adam Schakel, Torey Donovan, Darren Erath and Troy Halfaday — is trying to promote.
“What we’re trying to do is really create a community here, where they don’t have to go anywhere else,” Halfaday said.
But it’s taken awhile to get to this point. When the fivesome took over in 2010, ER lacked the youth initiative. The first camp drew about 80 kids — its more than doubled since. The Junior Jags football league was also created in 2012 to extend the program’s reach.
Eventually, the growing community started translating to the scoreboard; ER won its first SPSL South title in school history last season.
Jag Football Camp is just the beginning of that.
“I think it’s the whole atmosphere and culture that we’re trying to create,” Erath said. “It’s positive, and the kids just love being a part of it. We come out here, and play games and teach skills, but in the end we’re talking about how these kids need to become better men, better sons and better friends.”