Six-man team confident in third season
Oct. 3, 2013 at 5:03 a.m.
Updated Oct. 4, 2013 at 5:04 a.m.
Braiden Letsinger may only be a freshman, but he has played against high school-aged football players since he was in the seventh grade.
And it has made him tougher both physically and mentally.
Letsinger, 14, is a member of the Victoria Cobras six-man football team that consists mostly of home-schooled students from Victoria and surrounding areas. The Cobras are well into their third season and their second with separate junior high and high school squads.
The outside linebacker (though all members of the team become acquainted with multiple positions) has been home-schooled for most of his life.
However, getting an education at home hasn't stopped him from participating in sports.
"This year, everyone has stepped up even more, and we've turned it up compared to the last two," Letsinger said.
The Cobras practice three days a week at a field behind a church on North Laurent Street. Sometimes, they share the field with pee-wee soccer and flag football players.
Cobras coach Tim Harris said that it doesn't matter if a kid is home-schooled - you're going to play football if you want to.
"You either want to run into things or don't want to run into things," Harris said. "It's born into you."
Harris' son, Tyler, is a senior who has played since 2011.
Tyler Harris said he always wanted to play football.
"We've definitely gotten a lot stronger and more athletic, and we're smarter with the football," he said about his team's progression.
Many of the 11-player team had never played an actual game of football before the Cobras - only backyard football, Tyler Harris said.
This is the first season that players who are not home-schooled have joined the Cobras.
Two players from a private school in Yoakum joined the team on the basis that their school provides no athletic programs.
"A lot of the other schools we play against use combined efforts with home-school and private school kids," Tim Harris said. "We were able to provide that particular group the opportunity to play."
Assistant coach Kevin Riggs said a big challenge is "getting them to tackle and hit."
"That first year, I didn't think we'd win a game, but we did," Riggs said. "It's been neat to watch the kids grow from year to year and improve year to year."
Besides inexperience, smaller six-man football teams come up against other hurdles.
Without much team depth, many of the players are on the field the whole game.
Therefore, it's not a good idea to go full throttle during practices so that injuries are less likely to occur.
Riggs said conditioning is important for six-man football.
"It's a faster-paced game, and you have less players covering more ground," said Letsinger's father, Bard, adding that summer conditioning was especially grueling for the team.
Bard Letsinger, a former Victoria High football player, said that the only misgiving he had about home-school was the lack of athletics.
"The biggest drawback was 'What about sports?'" Bard Letsinger said. "But home-school has everything that public school has, except for the building."
Though social activities are plenty, football has offered some players the chance to meet new friends.
"It's helping me meet new people - half of these people, I didn't even know were in the home-school group," Tyler Harris said.
An increased sense of discipline is one of the biggest changes since Braiden Letsinger began playing, his father said.
"He gets up and says, 'Let's go! Dad, it's gym day,'" Bard said. "It has helped with his leadership."