After the big boys of East Texas high school football showcase their skills under the lights on Friday nights, Saturday mornings belong to the tiny up-and-coming gridironers.

From the 5- and 6-year-olds' early morning flag football games to the older kids' divisions' (up to 12 years old) full-contact games with pads and helmets, the young boys of the Tri-County Youth Football Association are getting early lessons in life, said Tyler Red Raiders Youth Football president Andy Bergfeld.

"We started our organization about four years ago," he said. "We really felt there was a need in South Tyler for a youth football organization that could teach the fundamentals, teach discipline, accountability and all those things that young men need."

Football, he said, is the best sport to teach these things at this age.

Bergfeld, who played football at Robert E. Lee High School and Southern Methodist University, said he hopes children playing youth football together might translate to future success at a higher level.

"I had a great youth football experience, my dad was a coach. We had some really great coaches and really learned football," he said. "We ended up being the first team ever to go to playoffs at Robert E. Lee. I think a lot of that came with that core group of us that played youth football together."

Bergfeld, who also is coach of the Red Raiders junior team (11 and 12-year-olds), has two sons that play in the league — Alex, who plays for the Red Raiders seven and eight-years olds' freshman team, and George, who plays for the junior team.

Joe Thompson, president of the cross-town rival Tyler Lions Youth Sports, also believes youth football to be a driving factor to young boys succeeding.

"We're into football, but it's also about getting these kids education," he said.

Thompson explained the boys in the Lions program all receive tutoring, and that the coaches are in continuous contact with parents about grades in school.

"We try to make sure they pass, and we try to be role models for them as best as we can," he said. "We have a good (football) program, but at the same time, it's about these kids in the classroom. … We want to win, but it's just like high school: if you aren't passing in school, you're not going to play."

Thompson, who played high school football in Brownsboro, mentioned that Kendall Hunter, who was an All-American running back at Oklahoma State University and now plays for the San Francisco 49ers, passed through the Lions program.

Elizabeth Carrasco, mother of twins Juan and Vicente Ordorica, who play for the Lions freshman team, have similar aspirations.

She said that playing youth football gives her sons goals and dreams.

"It gives them hope. They tell me, ‘Mom, when I grow up, I'm going to play in the NFL.' It gives them dreams," she said.

She said that the twins are playing their second season in the league, even after doctors thought the boys would never play sports, since they were born prematurely and with lung issues.

"We tried it out (playing football) last year, and they ended up being awesome," she said. "They love it. ‘Football, football, football.' They talk about it, they dream about it, they just love it."

Ms. Carrasco said she is filled with pride seeing her boys play.

"It's awesome, they won the (championship) last year, they're scoring touchdowns," she said. "Something that the doctors told them they couldn't do, they're doing. It's the best feeling in the world."

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