Knights of the gridiron

Eagleton Grasshoppers overcoming the odds

Eagleton Knights grasshopper coach Bobby Carmichael instructs, from left, Jeffery Bitner, Allen Taylor, Jordan Taylor and Shawn Brown at a recent practice.

Photo by Brandon Shinn

Eagleton Knights grasshopper coach Bobby Carmichael instructs, from left, Jeffery Bitner, Allen Taylor, Jordan Taylor and Shawn Brown at a recent practice.

Coaching at the Grasshopper level, particularly at a smaller program like the Eagleton Knights, comes with its on unique set of challenges, but Knights coach Bobby Carmichael wouldn’t have it any other way.

“This is fun,” he said. “It’s the best level of coaching, I think. You can’t do a lot, but they (the kids) just want to have fun.”

It’s still football, though, and, in Blount County, that’s serious business at any level. The Grasshopper Knights, ages 7 and 8, run many of the sophisticated plays their Pee Wee and Midgets cousins do. There are, as Carmichael alluded to, certain restrictions, though.

At a recent practice, the nearby Pee Wee Knights were working on an onsides kick. Many of his players, Carmichael said, are still learning to stay onsides.

“We’re lucky we don’t have kicking at our level,” he said. “We’d be in big trouble.”

The Pee Wee and Midget Knights have a full compliment of 30-plus players turn out for every practice. Carmichael’s Knights number less than 20, requiring no shortage of imagination when it comes to organizing practices and scrimmages. The Knights typically won’t see a full 11-on-11 at the line of scrimmage until game day twice a week.

“Your kids pretty much practice against ghosts,” Carmichael said.

The Eagleton Grasshoppers aren’t alone in that regard, he said. Grasshopper teams at Friendsville and Southside often make due with less.

“Friendsville only has 15 (players),” Carmichael said.

As any elementary school teacher will tell you, the attention span of a second- or third-grader can be fleeting. It’s no different on the gridiron, Carmichael said. At the Grasshopper level, that means sticking to the basics and making sure everyone stays involved. Many Knights drills feature one-one-one instruction.

“We just want to make sure they know what they should know when they move up to the next level,” Carmichael said. “We have to find a way to coach to do what we need to do.

“It’s important that you’re teaching. The Midget coaches, they can do so much more than we can.

That, considering the age of Carmichael’s players, may be a matter of opinion.

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