Hundreds of youngsters swarmed a back Pioneer Valley High School practice field at a football camp the Pioneer Valley football team hosted Thursday night.
Jonathan Diego, 12, said he wanted to start playing football again after being out of the game for two years. He tuned up his technique at the eight-station clinic that featured various agility, passing and blocking and tackling drills on blocking bags and sleds.
"I just wanted to play again," he said of his decision to come back to football. "I wanted to get out of the house, get some exercise."
Jonathan said he hopes to play running back or wide receiver for the Santa Maria Rebels, a youth football team.
Pioneer Valley coaches and players worked the camp, manning each of the eight stations and giving instruction and encouragement.
There was also a cheerleading station in which dozens of girls went through drills.
"Pretty good turnout," Chris Etheridge said as he surveyed the crowd of youngsters at the camp.
"It's bigger than last year."
Etheridge was an All-League linebacker for the Panthers who graduated in 2007 with Pioneer Valley's first graduating class. He also played quarterback.
He was filling in for PV head coach John Ruiz as camp supervisor. Etheridge, who will be the running backs coach and offensive coordinator this fall, said Ruiz was out of town Thursday night and would be back Friday night, the second of the three camp sessions.
The camp will take place from 5 to 7 p.m. Friday night and from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. Saturday. Youngsters ages 8 to 14 took part in the camp Thursday evening.
Etheridge said the Panthers' regular playing field was off-limits to the camp because, "They're working on the field. They're re-doing the track, too." Etheridge said the field will be ready by the time the Panthers open their season Aug. 25.
The 100-yard gridiron probably wouldn't have been sufficient to hold all the players and coaches Thursday night anyway.
"I help with these camps every year. I helped when I was a player," said Etheridge.
"The players buy into it. They find out a lot about themselves – what they can do, what they can't do."
After the Thursday camp was over, Isaiah Maycotte, 13, was asked what he got most out of the session.
Isaiah, who said he will play for the Santa Maria Rebels as a quarterback/running back this fall, thought for awhile and then replied, "How to do things properly. Technique."
The Pioneer Valley players gave the campers plenty of encouragement. The high school players razzed each other every now and then, too.
"Left side, what are you doing?!," someone called out with a laugh as some of the Panthers labored to push a blocking sled from one of area of the field to the other.
Andrew Gutierrez, a defensive lineman who will be a junior, was one of the more animated supervisors. He worked a blocking-and-tackling bag station.
"There you go!," he shouted as one pair of campers each tackled their bag. "There you go!"
He said, "It's fun working with the kids. Some of these kids are really talented."
Gutierrez played on the Pioneer Valley junior varsity last year. He said he's not sure at this point whether he will play on the varsity or JV in 2017.
Nicholas Robledo transferred from Nipomo to Pioneer Valley. The senior-to-be will compete for the quarterback job.
"This is my first time at one of these camps and it's fun," he said. "It's a different experience, very interesting working with these kids."
Mark Martinez, a sophomore-to-be who played for the Pioneer Valley freshman team last year, worked a camp for the first time. He said what most of the Pioneer Valley players who helped seemed to feel about the camp.
"It was fun working with the kids."