SNOHOMISH — The scene: a dimly lit arena, edged on one side by plexiglass windows where friends and fans look in. On the other, padded walls that reach about waist-high, where coaches and bench players watch and cheer on their teammates.
Inside, boys scramble and collide.
While the Snohomish Indoor Soccer Dome looks almost suited to hockey, it’s the devoted players of the Arena Youth Football League clashing in a day of senior league playoff games.
One immediately noticeable similarity between hockey and the arena football players is the speed of the game. It’s a rough and tumble game, yet to be finessed and reflecting the two-years-young that is the league.
Often played on a smaller field — this one is about 30 yards long — arena football is noted for how successfully teams make use of an aerial attack. With eight players on each side, three boys typically line up to defend the quarterback, while the other four go long. Scores run high, too. As the Marysville Wolverines played the Eastside Saints in a June 7 game, the Wolverines’ score ran 46 points in 40 minutes of regulation.
Arena football rules hamstring the defense, allowing high-tempo, high-scoring games, according to coaches.
“The defense really has its hands tied. In arena, you can only blitz one linebacker. You can’t blitz your corners. You’re playing man to man football basically,” explained Marysville Wolverines senior league coach Mark McDougall. “It’s made to be a high-scoring, entertaining game. It’s totally geared toward the offense.”
Played in a season that coincides with baseball and soccer, arena football typically attracts players as ardently in love with the sport as the most dedicated baseball players.
Arena football tends to draw kids who are really serious about football, said Arlington Eagles coach Mike Allen. In the Eagles’ second year in the league, the team’s roster was often in flux, starting with the minimum eight players needed to field a team, and maxing out at about 18 at one point.
The league itself has grown at this rate after being one, if not the very first arena youth program in the country.
“Last season, the first season we did this, we had 25 kids come out for tryouts. This year, we had 60. It really got popular,” said Marysville junior league coach Dan White, whose team will travel to Texas in July to compete in a first-ever arena youth football championship. “Especially for kids who don’t necessarily enjoy baseball and really love football, it’s a lot of fun. A lot of the kids on my team really prefer it to fall football.”
As word spreads about young programs like the Arlington one, Allen said he expects the local team only to grow as well.
“We have juniors that will move up to seniors,” he said, referring to the junior league team that is currently in third place and scheduled for a playoff game June 14. “It’s growing up all over the place.”
While the AYFL’s senior league players top out at about 16 years old, several have already made an impact on their high school football squad. By the end of the last football season, Lakewood freshman Justin Lane started taking a number of snaps for the Cougars. He returned this season to quarterback the senior league Lake Stevens Vikings. As a select program, most of the kids who were freshmen last year contributed to their respective high school programs as well, McDougall said, counting Archbishop Murphy’s Julius Tevanga as one of the league’s founding players.
And with the success of those players, arena football can look forward to more teams and bigger rosters in the coming seasons.
Allen added that coaches in this young arena league try to work with kids’ high school football programs to teach the athletes plays and techniques they’ll see on their high school squads in the coming years.
Teaching younger kids, White said, he started coaching from the perspective of teaching his players arena football rather than preparing them for their age-appropriate school’s football playbook. But as much of his team will transition into next year’s senior squad and with that into high school programs, White added that the kids are growing into new football schemes and part of that means incorporating high school-caliber plays.
“I think each year we as coaches need to work on continuing to develop the skills of the players,” he said. “Each year we need to develop them to different levels.”
With a loss to Granite Falls, the Arlington seniors are done for the season. The fourth-seeded Marysville Wolverines will advance in the senior league playoffs. The Marysville junior team, which is currently undefeated, plays June 14 at 11 a.m. The Arlington juniors will face the one-loss Lake Stevens at 12:30 p.m. All games will take place at the Snohomish Indoor Soccer Dome.