Last contest of the regular season and it’s another SB Dons vs. Chargers epic battle, this time at San Marcos.
And for the Dons – making the playoffs is on the line…
This Saturday morning classic match-up means the world to these YFL (Youth Football League) kids.
TAKE NO PRISONERS!
Goes the pre-game chants of the JI (Juniors Level 1 Division) Dons.
Emotions run high on these southern sidelines for a bunch of 12 year-old-boys, some with voices streaking towards manhood.
And then there’s one tall player with a black pony tail that touches the top tips of the “13” emblazoned on the back of the golden and green jersey and … do that drum-roll-in-your-head-thing here … she’s a girl!
And not just any girl – or should say, young woman – but Vanessa Angeles, an experienced, third-year linesman – and the one of the few female players in this Division.
“I just love football,” she sez.
And she is not afraid to mix it up on the field, either…
“Vanessa is an awesome player,” sez Matt Limon, The Don’s Line Coach, in his fourth season. “She listens, has a great attitude and always gives her best effort. There’s no special treatment – she’s just one of the guys.”
With The Don’s opening kick-off (Chargers receive), Vanessa’s Mom, Lori Savedra closely follows the action lining up on the sidelines where the ball is marked. She exhibits graceful moves — between chairs, spectators and blankets — like a pro running back as she follows each play from scrimmage.
And Mom is in charge of the Touchdown Can (aka large, wrapped coffee can) for $$ collections from family and fans with each score. The ‘mul-lah’ funds team trophies and the end-of-season banquet.
It’s all about team … and about that Vanessa, here’s what Mom had to say…
“When she told me three years ago that she wanted to play football, I wasn’t sure what to do,” sez Savedra, a single mother raising three kids.
A Santa Barbara Bank & Trust colleague advised her not to discourage her daughter and she took that sage counsel to heart.
And so … Vanessa played and played well in each of her first two seasons, learning the game, positioning and plays. She sez she’s had great coaches who have made it fun for her and her teammates.
When she registered for this 2010 season, again came the one requirement from Mom: if she made a commitment, it was for the whole season.
“I’m not a quitter,” Vanessa told Mom.
But to play this season, she had to literally “work her butt off.”
J1 Division, like all others, has a minimum and maximum weight requirement to best match players with age and size.
Three weeks prior to season start, Vanessa, a Washington Elementary School 6th Grader, was over the 98.4 pound max.
While the team did their pre-season workouts, she attended, but was ineligible for contact and team conditioning drills.
So she kept her focus and sights set on her very immediate goal.
While the boys practiced as a unit, Vanessa just ran … and ran … and ran, during most of the training session, hoping to eventually ‘make weight’ by the ultimate deadline.
And the good news?
On the morning of the Opening Day Jamboree with ‘game on the line’ — one final weigh-in that would make or break her season.
Like the boys, she shed layers of extra, non-essential clothing, seeking every possible advantage when she stepped barefoot on the scale’s black rubber pad.
Once she got her balance, the red digital number bounced around and around. She looked down with as much anticipation and hope as someone just spinning ‘the wheel’ for the California Lottery ….
When the number finally stopped EXACTLY on 98.4 pounds, Vanessa was in!
She later happily ‘donned’ her cherished golden and green uniform and stood proudly with her teammates, including life-long bud, Tony Montalvo.
Her roots include a long lineage of The Dons and football.
Older brother, Gabriel, now a 19 year-old Santa Barbara City College automotive technology student, played many years with YFL while Vanessa and younger sis, Liliana, tagged along.
Mom is also a fanatic Raiders fan, while Vanessa loves the Dallas Cowboys.
“It gets a little rough at home sometimes on Sundays,” kids Mom, though both pro teams are ‘enjoying’ less-than-spectacular seasons.
When it’s not football, Vanessa relishes other aspects of life.
She’s a solid student and alternates Fiesta dancing with playing softball for Santa Barbara City Parks and Recreation teams. She enjoys a variety of routines and absolutely loves football.
According to Mom, “Vanessa is not all ‘tomboy’ or ‘girly girl’. She dresses stylishly and has many girlfriends. But on the football field, she takes it like a champ.”
And in today’s action, Vanessa wastes no time, on her second play on the offensive line.
With a ‘fourth and long’ towards the end of the first quarter, The Dons punt deep into Charger territory.
Near the 10-yard-marker, the ball is somehow jostled free and there’s a mad scramble with bodies flying everywhere…
On the bottom of that little human stockpile is the only Don with a pony tail – who also has the ball tucked in tight, burying the No. 13 on the front of her jersey.
There are 1.3 seconds on the clock as she trots off the field.
It’s challenging to see her big smile through the mandatory plastic mouthpiece and through the required face mask bars across the front of the helmet, which are all decorated with the two long, pink stripes on top, in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
There’s plenty of encouragement, ‘high-fives’ and cheers from all the exuberant coaches, players and families…
WAY TO GO, VANESSA!
GREAT JOB, VANESSA!
This fumble recovery is exactly the break the Dons need, as it leads to their only touchdown a few plays later in the opening minutes of the second quarter. A successful 2-point conversion follows.
Mom then happily grabs the Touchdown Can and magically works the sidelines with extra gusto.
So what’s next for Vanessa?
She talks of her playing football in high school for Santa Barbara — The Real Dons — a notion that’s a little scary for Mom.
Even on Halloween.
After that, there’s college since Vanessa is planning a lucrative career.
But for right now, she is savoring this special time of her youth – an incredible balance of both pretty and tough. She and her dedicated family are all living in this moment.
And what a golden (and green) moment it is!
OH!! AND THIS JUST IN ….
FINAL SCORE : SB Dons 8, Chargers 6
Playoffs next week for The Dons!!