D.J. Dinsmoor called this past week the most chaotic experience of his life.
The Virginia Beach Mustangs Pee Wee coach was talking about the hectic, playful atmosphere that is the Pop Warner Super Bowl tournament at Disney World.
His team and two others from the Mustangs program — the Jr. Midget and Jr. Pee Wee squads — are all playing Saturday for a Pop Warner national championship after winning their two respective playoff games this past week at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex.
“Between the logistics of everything, being with 10- to 12-year-olds at Disney, it’s hard to grasp all of it,” Dinsmoor said Thursday. “We want them to have some fun, but we went into this week as a business trip, not a vacation time.”
Bruce Pearl, who founded the Virginia Beach Mustangs in 2001 and coaches the Jr. Midget team, said he believes this is the first time in Pop Warner history one program has sent three different age-level teams to the Division 1 Super Bowl. The ages of the players on the three Beach teams range in age from 8 to 13.
“When you’re down here, with Mickey Mouse running around and all the girls, it makes it tough to keep them focused,” Pearl said. “And, oh by the way, in addition to all that, you’re preparing to play against the best teams in the world. Any little hiccup can cost you a victory.”
The Mustangs teams haven’t hiccuped yet. The Jr. Pee Wees (ages 8-10) outscored their opponents 53-0 in two games. The Pee Wees (ages 10-12) have hung on twice in 8-6 victories, while the Jr. Midgets (ages 12-13) have rung up 76 total points in their two wins.
Each squad boasts a powerhouse running game and a shutdown defense.
“We’ve been grinding from day one, playing hard. Our team is ready to score,” said 12-year-old Saquan Miles, the star running back and middle linebacker for the Pee Wee Mustangs. “My team has been practicing everyday 100 percent. If you don’t go 100 percent, you can’t get it done.”
Pearl said his Jr. Midgets’ “lights-out” defense and offensive skill players compliment a sturdy offensive line that he called one of the best he’s ever coached.
Dinsmoor’s group had to rally back from a six-point deficit to win its quarterfinal game, then clung to an early 8-0 lead to win the semifinal.
“They’ve handled adversity very well,” Dinsmoor said. “It’s a never-die type of attitude.”
The Jr. Pee Wees have been ruthless on defense. Coach Chris Currie said they have yet to be scored on in 13 games this season. Offensively, they rely on two power and two speed backs.
“Our focus is smash-mouth football,” Currie said. “We like to run right at you.”
The players have been having fun away from the field, too — they celebrated their title game berths at a party Wednesday night hosted by Hollywood Studios — but the players and coaches stressed the reason they’re there is to win a national championship.
Currie says his players have been as focused as ever during practice and film sessions — yes, these 8-year-olds have film sessions — and are constantly asking questions about assignments and alignments. The kids have also had to stay on top of homework with study sessions throughout the week.
“We’ve had more fun at practice and being with the team,” said Will Inderlied, the 12-year old quarterback for the Pee Wee squad. “It’s been pretty cool. We just gotta keep our mind straight when we need to. Sometimes we jump on each other to get each other straight so no one’s goofing off and we’re ready.”
“I love being with my teammates,” Inderlied added. “We have a good time together. (A national title) would mean so much to us. It would pay off so much if we could win this last game.”
Dinsmoor praised his boys’ ability to “tune out” the pressure of playing in front of ESPN cameras on a national stage. All the games have been streamed live online on ESPN3.
The kids spent Thursday with their families, exploring the park while resting and preparing their bodies for a third game in seven days. Friday will feature more time in the film room and on the practice field before a pot luck dinner.
The Jr. Pee Wee Mustangs play Florida’s Forestview Steelers at 1 p.m. Saturday. The Pee Wees kick-off next at 3 p.m. against Florida’s Gwen Cherry Bulls. The Jr. Midgets play at 5 p.m., also against a Gwen Cherry Bulls squad.
“We’re making history down here,” Pearl said. “To have the opportunity to say you are the best in the world at that age group, it’s phenomenal.”
Watch highlights from the Mustangs’ semifinal games, courtesy of popwarnersb.com:
Jr. Midgets semifinals:
Pee Wee highlights:
Jr. Pee Wee highlights: