When Trei Thorogood, 10, lost a Pee Wee football game at the end of the season last year, his Dale City Sports League coach watched as he became emotional afterward.
Not all kids take the game to heart so quickly, Ravens coach Norvin West said. So when he saw Trei welling up just before the team’s scrimmage in front of the biggest crowd it would probably ever have at FedEx Field, he knew what to tell him.
“‘Hey, Trei. Hey man, you know that this moment is not too big for you, son,’” he remembered saying.
The scrimmage Aug. 24 was the chance of a lifetime for two Dale City Pee Wee teams, the U10 (ages 9 to 11) Ravens and Patriots: Take a few snaps in a scrimmage against two Maryland Pee Wee clubs at halftime of the Redskins’ preseason game against the Buffalo Bills. It certainly wasn’t just about football.
For Trei, it was also about family, with his father on the sidelines as part of the Redskins Marching Band.
Cecil Anderson, who leads the Dale City organization, said the teams’ involvement with USA Football and the NFL’s Heads Up program led to the last-minute opportunity. He got a call a few days before the game and had to settle quickly on two teams. He chose teams with historically good records that would be ready to play on short notice. No one has seen game action this year; Dale City’s first games begin next week.
The coaches immediately understood the significance for a crop of youngsters, many of whom had never experienced an NFL game. The teams got to stand on the visiting team’s sideline, which led to some grumbling as they eyed their favorite Redskins players across the field, as the national anthem was sung.
Any dissatisfaction, though, was remedied as the youngsters looked around. Eyes widened as they took in the FedEx bowl, which holds 80,000 people at a capacity. They understood that what they were doing was not ordinary, West said.
“They acted like they had been somewhere before,” he said.
“It looked smaller on TV,” Trei said as he pulled on shoulder pads before a practice last week. “I was emotional. It was the first time going on the [Redskins] field. I thought I’d get embarrassed or fail or something.”
His father, Thomas Thorogood, plays trumpet in the Redskins marching band. He had heard how his son was nervous and emotional before the scrimmage. When he saw Trei afterward, he said, “He was smiling ear to ear. It hit him after the fact.”
Ravens player Giamel Nava, 11, said team members heeded their elders’ words about the opportunity to play on an NFL field.
“We shouldn’t take this for granted; this is a once in a lifetime thing,” he said.
Patriots coach Charles Duplessis said his charges were equally enthusiastic.
Each team could run three plays starting at the 20-yard line. The Patriots scored and held the South Bowie Sharks on defense.
“Even the coaches, it brought us together,” Duplessis said.
The way the team handled the moment and their excellent play was “a confirmation of what we’ve done with these kids,” he said.
As for Trei, known for his speed on the field, his emotions were in check once the scrimmage started. On the team’s third play, the quarterback handed him the ball on a reverse — a bit of trickery — and he took it in for the score.
“Yeah,” Trei said with a smile of his touchdown run.
West, his coach, sees it as confirmation that the team and Trei could rise to the occasion in an unforgettable way. Although they tied, 6-6, with the Marlboro Mustangs, his players felt as though they had lost. West reminded them it was a scrimmage — an experience rather than a game.
“I was so proud of them,” he said. “Looking at it through their eyes — that was magical.”