Pop Warner’s Junior Pee Wee Torreys make history

La Jolla’s youngest football players have only had about a decade in which to distinguish themselves through a Pop Warner organization of their own. In that time, only one team can claim the distinction of placing the relatively young league on the map by earning a regional playoff bid and winning. That team is this season’s Junior Pee Wee La Jolla Torreys.

Fielding boys 8 to 11 years old, the 2015 Junior Pee Wee Torreys accomplished the milestone after posting a 7-1 regular-season record, through playoff wins over two local teams that allowed for a third match-up and win on a level no La Jolla Pop Warner team had seen before in Wescon Region Pop Warner play. With its 26-20 regional quarterfinal win Nov. 7 against Arizona’s Yuma Scorpions, the young Torreys players made history.

The Torreys’ run ended Nov. 14 with their 30-13 loss to the Tustin Golden Cobras in the regional semifinals, but Scott Rosecrans, the team’s coach, said it was the boys’ team-minded approach to the season that’s to credit for the history already made.

“We try to build a brotherhood and try to build a camaraderie so that you have a true team — you’re not just a bunch of individuals out there,” Rosecrans said. “It just so happened that the pieces kind of came together.”

A relatively consistent roster that saw only one player sidelined for any significant time due to injury was among those pieces. But the boys’ focus on teamwork rather than individual accomplishment, Rosecrans suggested, made winning games possible when there otherwise might have been outstanding statistics for one or two players, but no victories coming from them. The team embraced the coaching staff’s approach to bring even the least experienced players into the fold.

“There’s very little in-fighting, jealousy or some of the other things that go on in some teams,” Rosecrans said.

As early as the second week of the season, the Torreys felt they had something special. Facing the Santee Ravens — a team largely comprised of the same players many of the La Jolla boys had faced and narrowly defeated as members of the 2013 Mighty Might-division Torreys — La Jolla claimed victory with an unexpected blowout. Though not entirely surprised at winning, the Torreys were surprised at how they won, given that the match-up two years earlier between many of the same boys resulted in four quarters of competitive football that came down to the final play of the game.

“We expected that to be a really good game, and, to be perfectly honest, we kind of dominated a team that we thought was going to be better,” Rosecrans said.

Despite the team’s success, the season has not been without lessons learned from mistakes. Heading into their final regular season game undefeated — against a 4-3 San Carlos Patriots team that the La Jolla boys had in some ways allowed to be seen as a less-threatening opponent — the Torreys lost their sense of urgency. And it cost them.

“We knew we were in the playoffs, and the team we were playing was not going to make the playoffs,” Rosecrans said. “We kind of had gotten to the point where some of our players were starting to think no one can beat us. We tried to tell them, ‘This team is good. They’re not going to lay down and just let you run over them.’ I told the kids it’s a trap game, where we have nothing to win and they have nothing to lose.”

The message didn’t stick, and the Torreys fell, losing by six points to end a perfect regular-season run.

“That was a really good things for us, actually,” Rosecrans said. “All of our coaches kind of agreed after the game that that was kind of what we needed. The humility on the team came up a huge level.”

Julian Solis, an 11-year-old first-year guard for the Torreys, said the players saw it the same way. “It taught us that we can never back down, not even a little bit, and to always be serious during games,” Solis said.

The Torreys carried that lesson through their win over Rancho San Diego in the first round of local playoffs, then through another victory over Santee in the local championship game, and then again through that history-making Nov. 7 win over Yuma.

Rosecrans said the season’s most remarkable moments came at the hands of the least experienced, and illustrated the team’s reception to the team-centric concept. While there are several on the team, a pair of standout players whose performances he recalled as having made differences were Rafi Amato and Justin Graff.

During that blowout victory over Santee early in the season, the team sought to make the day one to remember for Amato, who was also celebrating a birthday. Finding a way to get him the ball, the Torreys sought him out on an extra-point try. Amato responded with a point-scoring reception.

“That’s really fun to be able to take a kid who — it’s kind of his day — and everybody works together to try to get him something special,” Rosecrans said.

Another moment easily recalled came during the win against Yuma, when Graff, who as a first-year, non-starting tackle would rarely have a chance to score, was also passed to on a successful point-after play.

Solis said the season has given him and his teammates a chance to grow as a team.

“First of all, the coaches are really cool,” Solis said. “They help us out a lot. And then there’s the players — I like all of them. Without them, we wouldn’t be here.”

Solis’ father, Michael Solis, said he’s proud of what Julian and the team have accomplished.

“He put in a lot of hard work,” Michael said. “He’s been wanting to play football for quite some time, so for him to get on this team and have them do what they did, it’s really an unforgettable experience.”