The 2014 season is the fourth since the Tracy Raiders, the oldest local youth football team in town, changed its name to the Tracy Junior Bulldogs.
Junior Bulldogs President Jonathan Blackwell said that the name change in 2011 was intended to identify the youth team as the feeder program for the Tracy High football team — and it appears to have met expectations so far.
Blackwell pointed out that this year, Tracy High football head coach Matt Shrout has moved eight freshman players to the sophomore level, seven of them alumni of the Junior Bulldog program.
“That proves that the kids are learning the Tracy High system, so they’re stepping into their roles with much better experience,” Blackwell said. “It’s good that they’re recognizing the kids who have had this experience.”
Shrout said this is the year he expects to see how well the feeder concept works. He said that the eight freshmen who moved up to the sophomore team showed that they knew how to play Bulldog-style football.
When the Tracy Raiders were the only youth team in town they would automatically feed into the Tracy High team. Even after the Cougars and Buccaneers were added to the mix the Raiders drew players from the same part of town as Tracy High’s attendance boundary.
But in the past three years, the Junior Bulldogs coaches have deliberately used the same offensive and defensive schemes that Shrout and his coaches teach the Tracy High players.
“Our freshmen are way ahead of where they’ve been in the past,” Shrout said.
He said that youth feeder programs are typical among teams the Bulldogs play against, including most of the teams in the reconfigured Tri-City Athletic League, which debuts this school year.
“If Kimball and West could figure out a way to do that, it would be huge,” Shrout said. He added that a strong feeder program is one way to convince players to stay with their hometown schools instead of opting to attend out-of-town private schools for their athletic programs.
Among the five local youth football programs, the Junior Bulldogs are the first identified as a feeder program.
Tracy Cougars President John Harvey said that feeder programs typically rely on having common residential boundaries for the youth and high school programs. Delta Youth Football League has its own boundaries to establish whether youths will play for the Junior Bulldogs or the Cougars. Most players within the Junior Bulldogs boundaries will also go to Tracy High, while those in the Cougars’ boundaries could go to either West or Kimball.
“It makes sense, somewhat, but it makes it tough, because you have a boundary,” Harvey said. “If you’re only trying to get kids from your high school, you’re turning away kids in your boundary.”
Harvey said that youth football teams should prepare players for the next level, regardless of which high school they chose.
“We’re the Cougars, and we take kids from anywhere in our boundary,” he said.
Tracy’s two Delta Youth Sports Association-Nor Cal teams, the Buccaneers and the Rampage, are not subject to boundaries.
The president of the Mountain House Hurricanes, Mo Kaho’onei, said he hoped to see his team develop into a feeder for Mountain House High, but the new high school would have to establish its own football program before the youth and high school teams could talk about that kind of connection.
Contact Bob Brownne at firstname.lastname@example.org or 830-4227.