Last year was a lean one for the Mo Better Jaguars Pop Warner program of Brownsville, Brooklyn. As we chronicled in a November feature story, the 2013 season was the first time none of the program’s teams made the playoffs. But while it was a down year, it did not lack flashes of hope.
See last year’s feature story: One Foot on the Turf, One Foot on the Streets
The 9-to-11-year-old Junior Pee Wees were talented, physical and fast and smart. The team reminded the coaches of the powerful squads of the late-’90s, when Mo Better was the unquestioned dominant youth football force of the region.
The Pee Wees finished the season with four wins and four losses, but those four losses were close, and left the players, coaches, and parents hungry for the next season, as the core of the Junior Pee Wees aged up to the 10-to-12-year-old Pee Wee level.
So there were high expectations for the Pee Wees, and on Sunday the months of waiting ended with the season’s opening kickoff against a team from Elizabeth, New Jersey.
“I better hurry up,” said Vick Davis, coach of the 7-to-9-year-old Mitey Mites, as he jogged from the field toward the bleachers. “I don’t wanna miss this show here.”
Officially, the Pop Warner season started the previous Sunday. But Mo Better’s scheduled opponent did not have enough players registered and under the weight limit. It was a win by forfeit, and it stretched the anticipation for another week.
The Pee Wees had looked sharp during their three exhibition scrimmages in August. Coach Mohammed Esau showcased an offense built around a deep and versatile rushing attack, led by the exceptionally fast Isaiah, the powerful and fearless Javaun, and the agile and quick Marquis. Quarterback Nasir and wide receiver Shaka had connected on several deep bombs. Defensive lineman Andrew and linebacker Dorian had wreaked havoc in opponents’ backfields, and helped ensure that the Pee Wees allowed no more than a single touchdown over the entire preseason.
This year, many around the program prophesied, would be the year Mo Better returned to the top.
It was hot and cloudless when the Pee Wees took the field on Sunday afternoon at Franklin K. Lane High School in east Brooklyn. The Junior Pee Wees had just finished playing. That team won by five touchdowns, and the players, in high spirits, gathered at the edge of the field to cheer the older boys. Spectators along the top row of the bleachers held umbrellas to block the sun.
On the first play from scrimmage, Isaiah fought off a blocker from his outside linebacker position and tackled the runner five yards behind the line. On the second play, Marquis, from the other outside linebacker spot, surged into the backfield to recover a fumble.
It took four plays for Esau’s offense to march across the field and within 10 yards of the end zone, and on the fifth play, quarterback Tamel faked a handoff then sprinted past the defense for the score.
The rest of the game followed the same pattern. On the next defensive series, Javaun stuffed the running back behind the line on fourth down, and a minutes or two later, Isaiah was in the end zone for a five-yard touchdown. Nasir punched in a short touchdown run on the next drive. In the third quarter, Isaiah ran nearly 40 yards, untouched, racing around the edge of the defense and down the sidelines for his second TD. Shaka capped off the scoring with a touchdown grab in the fourth quarter. Meanwhile, the defense hit hard and forced turnovers.
It was 33-0 when the game ended.
The boys were smiling as they peeled off their new purple uniforms and unbuckled their shoulder pads. They relived a few highlights and passed around compliments. “I saw that block!”…”They couldn’t touch you!”…”Man, you really hit that guy!” They were enjoying the feeling of victory. But the celebration was tempered. There had been no jumping, no fist-pumps, no hollering after the final whistle blew.
“We got bigger fish to fry,” said Chris Legree, the program director, taking in the scene. “But that was a good way to start.”