By Raymond R. Beltran
Looks like San Diego football is making a national name for itself this week. No Tomlinson, Rivers, or Merriman on this field, in fact, the star players here are a pack of hundred pound preteens called Los Toros, but don’t misinterpret pure strategy and commitment as a lack of collision power: these youngsters hit like grown men.
The Spring Valley Los Toros, or The Bulls, are part of San Diego’s American Youth Football League (tackle), the Junior Pee Wee Division, and this season, they’ve driven through an eleven game winning streak, leading them to battle for the National Division Championship title this week in Lakeland, Florida.
“The competition out here is swift,” says Head Coach Art Larceval. “The Toros got themselves out here ‘cause they’re good.”
In recent months, Los Toros have played a total eight games during their regular season where they didn’t allow one team a touchdown. Their skill has led them to the San Diego “Q Bowl” Championship, and ultimately the Division 1 Regional Championship, where they crushed the Gardenia Mohicans letting one touchdown slide by. The score, 6 to 26.
“We got to keep them interested,” one Toros fan said from the San Diego High School bleachers where they played weeks ago.
For a team that’s, for the most part, grown together since the flag football days when they were young-er, the success has been well deserved and fanatical fans-slash-parents who create the ambience of professional ball for their young stars, the championship feat is fierce but fun.
“I am proud of all of the boys and their coaches,” says Christina Varela, mother of nine year old defensive lineman Kaleb (#44) and eleven year old wide receiver Robert (#9). “They all work hard as a team, not individuals, to get to this level of play and that hard work is really paying off for them. They are having a great time.”
Christina has gone to all of the practices and games, which, by AYF guidelines, are three days a week during regular season. But when the team found themselves “Q Bowl” contenders, they practiced everyday for two hours in the evenings.
Los Toros consists of 35 players, all from East County elementary schools in Lemon Grove, Spring Valley and La Mesa, who are choreographed by a full fledged coaching staff: Art Larceval, Joe Banks, Brian Kaai, Alan Tabiendo, Ron Davis, Morris ‘Skip’ Hardin, Tom Shawcroft, and Anthony Larceval.
“This wouldn’t have happened without the staff that I have,” said Coach Art Larceval. “We’ve created a well-rounded team, and it’s our job to create a good atmosphere for the boys.”
While in Florida, the team has already defeated the Meriden Raiders (0-6) and the Stafford Raiders (28-8), leading them to one final game to possibly win the Nationals, the reason all parents forked up their own air fair to attend.
Larceval says the National Football League threw in an extra $5,000. The way things are going, it was probably an investment for future reference.
“We’re really good,” says ten year old defensive lineman, Ryan. “Some [teams] are winning and some are losing, but none are going to beat us.”
Youthful glory is without it’s modest counterpart in Florida tomorrow when Los Toros play the Phoenix Dragons for the whole enchilada, but like Coach Larceval says, “They may never have this experience again.”