Eric Davis knows full well the tradition of the Delray Rocks football program.
He lived it as a player in the 1970s and has come full circle as a coach. Davis has been back with the program for the past five years and heads up the defending American Youth Football League Super Bowl champion Rocks 8-Under squad.
The Rocks have opened up the season 5-0, giving them 19 consecutive victories dating back to last year. They haven’t lost since as they avenged the defeat to Miramar in last year’s Super Bowl and have outscored the opposition 144-6 this season.
As a 6-Under team, the Rocks finished 14-0; in their first year as a 7-under team, they wound up 11-2 and lost in the second round of the playoffs to Miramar. The Rocks are 44-2 during that span.
“It’s very good to see them succeed because I was born and raised in Delray,” said Davis, who was a player with the program from 1971-76. “Now, being a part of the program where I was a player…I love the coaches, who were surrogate dads and mentors. It was a great experience for me as a kid, so it is my way of giving back. It is all volunteer.
He’s been around the game a long time as Davis was a head coach at Boca Raton and has been an assistant at Olympic Heights, Cardinal Newman and Park Vista. Davis settled in at Delray Beach and that is the lone program commanding his time.
Davis said there is little difference between his approach with the youth football players on his team and the players at his previous stops in high school.
“I incorporate all of it,” he said. “I treat them like they are high school players. There is nothing different, they are just miniatures. We keep it simple, so they understand what the assignment is and that is everything from their alignment to making sure that we encourage them to do their homework.”
Jeffrey Blanchard, who turned 9 after the cutoff date, is a Delray Beach resident and is one of the key players on offense for the Rocks.
“I want to go to the Super Bowl just like last year,” said Blanchard, a fourth-grader at Banyan Creek Elementary. “It would be really big if we could do that again. I don’t feel no pressure really. When I am playing and I hear people screaming for me, I get hyped.”
The same goes for Cameron Gauff, 9, of Delray Beach. He is the younger brother of tennis star Coco Gauff. He’s a fourth-grader at Sunset Park Elementary.
“Playing football means a lot because my brother, my uncle, my dad and my granddad played on this team,” said Gauff, who plays quarterback and linebacker. “And my grandad coached in this program.
“I like when they cheer for you on defense,” he said. “It gets you hyped up and you can get wild. When you hit somebody you feel like a mean beast. Going back to the Super Bowl and undefeated would mean a lot. We have to listen to the coaches, try hard and if we do that we can make it happen. We have some new coaches, and they are building with a lot of knowledge to help us win games.”
Davis said he enjoys seeing the improvement in the players throughout the season.
“That’s the great part,” he said. “We have some kids who have never played, or in some instances, have never gotten off the couch. You see them from the beginning of the year where they are very timid, and they are like ‘what is going on?’ to starting in the Super Bowl.
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“They catch on and they realize the game can be fun and you are executing and working as a team,” Davis said.
He said the pressure is on the Rocks being the Rocks.
“We can’t control what other teams do,” Davis said. “If we are good at what we do, then we should see success. When you are trying to be like someone else, that’s when the wheels fall off.”
He said coaching high school and the youth league team are equal.
“The high school part was seeing it through where some of the kids got into the military, some got to play in college and graduated and some have gone on to play at the next level,” Davis said. “What is most gratifying is when they come back and say thank you. You don’t get a lot of thank you’s.
“I have been around so long that I am coaching the kids of kids I coached,” he said. “I am just a fan of a kid growing up and trying to live out his dream. Once they have done that, don’t forget where you came from and give back.”