ROCK SPRINGS – Over the Thanksgiving weekend, the Rock Springs Youth American Football All Stars won the National Youth Football Championship in Las Vegas, Nevada.
The Rock Springs All Stars defeated a team from Sierra Vista, Arizona, 39-25, in the semifinal game on Thanksgiving day. Then on Sunday, Nov. 30, the All Stars defeated a team from North Los Angeles, 14-6, to secure the national title.
“They simply just showed up. And on that day, they weren’t going to be beat,” said Teno Trujillo, head coach of the Rock Springs All Stars.
“I could’ve put them up against any team in the country at that age and I don’t think they could’ve been beaten.”
The team went 6-1 over the course of the two-month season, which included wins over all star teams from Lander, Green River, Riverton and Gillette.
Trujillo said the team’s main cheer this season was, “One team. One fight.”
“We basically gathered players from all of these different little league football teams and gathered them into one team. I’m really proud how they came together. They really accepted the program,” Trujillo said.
“It’s a tough program. I mean, it’s two hard months of all-star football with me basically working them and yelling at them the whole time.
“They learned a new offense, a new defense and got to know new coaches. At a young age, it really shows how pliable these kids are.”
For the championship game, however, Trujillo changed the team cheer to, “One more time.”
“I just kept telling them that throughout the game. We just got to do this one more time and we’re national champions,” he said.
The Rock Springs All Stars is made up of fourth- through sixth-graders, and there is no tryout.
Trujillo spent time watching every single game of the Rock Springs Young American Football League and then picked who he though would help them compete in Laramie, the location of the Snowy Range Showdown, which is basically the state tournament at the youth level.
At the national tournament in Las Vegas, Trujillo said the temperature was in the low 30s with high winds, which he believes wound up helping the Rock Springs All Stars.
“The weather was much like what we face here in the Rockies,” Trujillo said.
“The two teams we played were really good – Arizona and Northern Los Angeles. You can imagine the kind of talent they got on those teams. But they weren’t accustomed to the cold, I don’t think.
“They still played their hearts out and still gave us a heck of a game. I think our kids just shined.”
But winning the national championship wasn’t just about winning, Trujillo noted.
He said it was about the players finding who the are and digging deep within themselves to compete at a high level.
“They had to lean on each other. They had to find out who each and every one of them were,” Trujillo said.
“In basketball, you got five players on the court. In baseball, you got nine players on the field. You have 11 in football and for them to come together as one unit, it gets a little more challenging because it has to be a well-oiled machine.
“To be able to have a well-oiled machine at this age, is a pretty cool thing.”
Trujillo emphasizes grades and good behavior to his players. He believes the lessons the kids learned over the course of the season will hopefully help them throughout life and not just football.
“I probably remember more from little league coaches than I do when I played in high school,” he said. “The influence on a young kid at 9, 10 and 11 years old is so valuable. The impact is huge.”
He said the coaching staff tries to instill an encouraging attitude in the players.
“We have to make a positive impact on their lives,” he said. “We try to instill positivity in them that they can do anything.
“That’s the most important part of this program.”