At Play

The Baltimore Sun

Tyler Martz stood clutched a football in his left hand and waited for a coach to yell out a signal. The 12-year-old Gambrills resident dropped back five steps and looked for someone running a slant pattern over the middle. He threw a perfect strike.

Tyler repeated the drill over and over at GORC Park on Monday night, one of three two-hour practices the 110-pound team holds every week.

The complexities of football require that many physical actions be performed almost without thinking. That's why teams at all levels, from the Gambrill Odenton Recreation Council to the Baltimore Ravens, practice constantly. Teams in the Anne Arundel Youth Football Association usually practice five nights a week for the final month of the summer, cutting back to three nights when school begins.

That's a huge commitment for young boys - and their taxicab parents - but coaches say the effort is necessary.

"Practice is very important because, unlike other sports like baseball, where you can kind of be put out in a position, you can be injured by not knowing what you're doing," said assistant coach John Pompey. "You have to know the plays, you have to show up to practice and learn the fundamentals so that, in turn, you'll know the play and when you're out there you will know what to do and not get injured."

Pompey's 12-year-old son, Joey, plays running back and safety and can help at quarterback. The regular practices don't bother him or affect his schoolwork because his parents have set clear guidelines.

"I've got to get my homework done first," he said. "I love football and all, but my mom and dad always say that school is more important ... and education. You've got to work just as hard in practice. You've got to hit just as hard, and you've got to get better before you go to your game."

Aaron Snyder, 11, gets playing time at running back and linebacker. "I get to hit people, and I learn a lot," he said. "I learn the fundamentals and have fun."

Zach Wagner wants to throw the ball with the accuracy of Steve McNair and get a shot to play in the National Football League someday. Until then, he'll practice.

On Monday night, a couple of coaches stood off to the side, counting "one, two, three, four, five" for each step Tyler moved sideways and backward before throwing. Then they did it again.

As the clock drew closer to 8 p.m., Tyler got it right nearly every time.

"I really try to work on my arm strength because you really don't want to throw interceptions in games," Tyler said. "Practice is a lot of fun. You have to make it that way for yourself. If you don't want to have fun, and if you don't want to give 110 percent the whole practice, then you're just letting your team down."

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