In the game of football, there are no substitutes for enthusiasm, teamwork and constant attention to fundamentals.
That is a reality Grizzlies Head Coach Daigen Springer understands well, and is effectively communicating to his teams this season. Springer coaches a pair of teams ages second through fifth grades.
The proof is in the pudding, as they say, as the Grizzlies’ young squad (mostly second and third-graders) has already qualified for the Championship Game in their league. The young squad will play this weekend against Summit County, and if they win they will be the number one seed in the playoffs.
“These kids have worked extremely hard, they are developing a passion for the game, and they are working extremely well together as a team,” Springer said. “I am extremely proud of all these kids, and genuinely love every one of them.”
The older squad has only had a couple of games, and will likely have to wait until next year for their Championship Game appearance.
One of the reasons Springer is so passionate about the health of youth football in Fairplay is because he was once a Grizzly as well.
“I played for the Grizzlies when I was a kid, and we had a great coaching staff that really got me involved and passionate about the sport,” Springer said. “That passion for the game continued for me all the way through high school, and even into college.”
Springer was a standout player for the Burros and was a 2019 graduate of South Park High School. He went on to start a college career at a community college in Kansas before his playing days were cut short by an injury.
“Football is unfortunately a dying sport in Fairplay, so the idea is to revive the sport at the youth level, to teach the kids the benefits of learning the fundamentals, hard work and playing as a team, and to develop their love for football so that they will stick with the sport through the high school level.”
Springer, who has a passion for drawing up effective offensive plays, says his teams are generally running teams.
“At this age there isn’t a lot of passing, so we like to play smashmouth football and run it right at our opponents behind a fundamentally sound offensive line.
Assistant coach Dennis Hermansen, who was a superb linebacker during his playing days, serves as te defensive coordinator.
“Coach Hermansen has a very firm understanding of defenses, and he has done an excellent job of getting the kids to play hard on that side of the ball,” Springer said. “The kids are learning to swarm to the ball and hit hard when they get there.”
Perhaps the most enlightning aspect of what Springer and Hermansen teach has more to do with attitude than physicality.
“We teach our kids not to do a bunch of celebrating when good things happen, and to keep things on an even keel and demonstrate sportsmanship at all times,” Springer said. “We want to win, of course, but we also want to do it the right way, with class and sportsmanship.”
The Grizzlies program, which is run through the South Park Rec Center, suffered from low numbers and waning interest in recent years. The program might not have fielded a team this season had it not been for Springer’s willingness to coach the team.
The team currently has 19 players, and some players swing to both teams when necessary. All of the Grizzlies have enjoyed plenty of playing time, and have managed to rack up a winning record along the way.
“We are tough on the kids and we let them know that the object is to win. Of course, practicing sound fundamentals and playing within a team concept come first, but winning is the object of the game and we try to do as much of that as possible.”