Youth camp develops next generation of Wolves football players

July 22, 2013

By Neil Pierson

Don Bartel wants to cultivate a powerhouse football program at Eastlake High School, and to do that, he’s working with players who won’t don the Wolves’ black-and-red uniforms for several more years.

Judging by the smiling faces of roughly 70 boys at last week’s Eastlake True Champions Camp, the Wolves’ first-year head coach is making a positive impression.

Participation at the four-day camp tripled from last year, and the fields were filled with players entering second through eighth grades.

“What it says is, everybody knows things are changing at Eastlake, and their kids are going to get a lot out of camp,” Bartel said.

One of the quickest ways to foster enthusiasm among the youngsters, Bartel said, is to have them surrounded by their high-school heroes. All of Eastlake’s captains, along with several other potential leaders, served as camp counselors.

Many of the Eastlake players had attended the camp as elementary and middle-school students, so it was a chance to give back to the program that has given them a lot of joy.

Dylan Reifeis, a sophomore quarterback, was a regular camp participant growing up, and was actually coached at one point by his brother, Austin, a 2010 Eastlake graduate.

“I always looked up to these guys, and so it’s kind of cool being out here, being one of the kids that they look up to,” Reifeis said.

While the main purpose of the camp is teaching fundamentals and growing passion for the sport among young children, Bartel also sees a side benefit for the Eastlake program – churning out leadership.

Bartel was an assistant coach at January’s Semper Fidelis All-American Bowl in Carson, Calif. He recalls taking the players to a youth camp in nearby Long Beach and watching Peyton Pelluer, a star at Skyline High who is now playing for Washington State, jump into the middle of the action to help kids improve their skills.

“It never fails – you can tell the confidence of a high-school kid by how he deals with 5-, 6-, 7-year-olds,” Bartel said. “A lot of those other kids would sit on the peripheral … and didn’t do much.”

Bartel encouraged his players to interact with the kids as much as possible, whether it was acting goofy, exchanging high-fives or yelling positive encouragement.

It’s the kind of activity that Reifeis plans to engage in often as he starts his first year on the Eastlake varsity squad.

“I think I really kind of have to step up, work my hardest and be a leader,” he said. “And I think that’s turning out really well. I’m loving it a lot.”

The camp moved at a fast pace, switching players from offensive to defensive skills circuits, and mixed in several competitions. One of them incorporated elements of Ultimate Frisbee, forcing players to complete several forward passes in order to score a touchdown.

The campers also got a taste of the Wolves’ systems, Reifeis explained, including some simple pass routes, run plays and quarterback cadences.

While he didn’t know the percentage of his camp participants who eventually play high-school football, Bartel estimated it’s a high amount. He knows several current Wolves who were campers during his assistant coaching stint at Eastlake from 2005-07.

While building a perennial state-title contender is a nice goal, Bartel is also looking at the familial bonds he’s building with the young players, and the possibility they could one day return to coach at their alma mater.

“The reality is, if these kids play football with us … before those four years (of high school) are over, they’ll spend thousands of hours with us,” Bartel said, “and we get to know those kids. And for me, it’s awesome.”

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