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Jr Zebras prepare to go head-to-head against the competition

Teams look strong against NU, Bear River
By: Jim Linsdau News Messenger Sports Editor
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The Lincoln Jr. Zebras shook off some of the rust they showed in a scrimmage earlier in the week and quickly made up ground during their annual jamboree held at Lincoln High School football field over the weekend. The optimism was running high following a strong showing from all Zebras’ divisions during the scrimmages held with Bear River and Nevada Union. PeeWee’s coach Dana Graham was pleased not only with this weekend’s showing, but also against Del Oro earlier in the week. His club recorded five touchdowns against the Golden Eagles. “We have a group of new kids that are really going to push us to the top,” said Graham of a team that was just one win short of playing in the 2010 championship. “Some of the kids are starting to grow, and mentally they’re starting to talk football better.” The Jr. Zebras are now following the lead of Lincoln High School head football coach Ken Lowe. About five years ago the junior organization partnered with the high school and now the players are entering their freshman year already familiar with the Fighting Zebras program. Midgets’ head coach Pete Manley said things have improved every year since Lowe got involved. Lowe works with the Jr. Zebra coaches so they know how to bring their players up through the ranks. “We do run the (high school’s) plays so they know the formations and terminology,” said Manley, who feels the Jr. Zebras are going to have a good season. “We have more speed and more talent this year, and a lot further ahead than last year.” Although many of the players are beginning to find the positions they’re comfortable playing, the process began early on. The Jr. PeeWee’s (9-10 year olds) open it up so the kids can try different positions; linemen from a previous year can try out at running back if they so desire, and the offense can tryout on defense, and vice versa. There is also a growing curve in which the player’s physical abilities can change. Jr. PeeWee’s head coach James Brown said they open the competition from day one. Of course, not all the players make it into their desired spots, but at least they get the opportunity. Although the squads can only suit up 35 players a game, the ones who don’t make the cut for one game could make the team for the next. “If we don’t do the right thing at this level the high school will never see these kids,” said Brown. “That’s why it’s open competition; it’s not the same kids each game.” Lincoln’s numbers have gone up and so has the confidence, not only among the players, but also the coaches now that they’re working closely with Lowe. Graham said the Jr. Zebras’ organization is real strong in teaching the plays set down by Lowe, but modified to match the skill levels of each division. Charles Middleton, head coach of the Jr. Midgets said his players understand the game a lot more. He said now that they’ve had the time to gain the consistency necessary to move between levels they’re improving dramatically. “Every year we’ve gotten better and better,” said Middleton, who played football in college, as a number of the Jr. Zebras coaches have. “I think we have everything we need; we have everything we need and want to make a run this year.” Graham agrees that the organization has grown. He said it took a while to establish buy-in by the high school, but now the system seems to be running just as planned. He said the teaching of football fundamentals have improved dramatically and he’s pleased that he and his family made the decision to move to Lincoln. “I love Lincoln,” said Graham, who said his wife was raised in Lincoln and is the nicest person he knows. “It’s really a neat town.” And it appears the Jr. Zebras could make things even neater for the community with the progress they’ve made. Not only could the Midgets, Jr. Midgets, PeeWee’s, Jr. PeeWee’s, and Mitey Mites all make a run for their respective championships, but when they eventually enter high school they could do the same for Lincoln High’s Fighting Zebras. E-mail News Messenger Sports at jiml@goldcountrymedia.com