Connellsville HS players serve as coaches for youngsters
For Connellsville juniors Christopher Russell and Austin Heinbaugh, football practice doesn't end once the pads come off and the Falcons are done with film study.
Three days a week, Russell and Heinbaugh not only take part in their own team practices, they also coach the South Connellsville Firemen's pee-wee division team in the Connellsville Booster Football League.
On Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, Russell and Heinbaugh practice as players, then oversee the youth practices as coaches.
"We were talking about it over the summer and thought it would be a cool thing to do," Heinbaugh said.
The players got an opportunity when it was determined that the South Connellsville Firemen pee-wee team needed coaches for this season.
The two high school players volunteered to run the pee-wee practices, although they do receive some help from several parents of players. Both Russell and Heinbaugh grew up playing in the Connellsville Booster Football League, and both played for South Connellsville.
"We did it because there was no one that could do it, and we wanted to give back to the team we played for when we were younger," Russell said.
For the Falcons, Russell, who is technically the youth team's head coach, plays running back and linebacker.
Heinbaugh is used as an offensive and defensive lineman. Not surprisingly, Heinbaugh works with the linemen on the youth team, while Russell concentrates his efforts on the backs and linebackers.
"It's a lot like our practices," Heinbaugh said. "We do individual stuff, and then we run plays."
The pee-wee division is comprised of players in grades 1-2.
"At that age, we tell the kids it's not all about winning or losing," Heinbaugh said. "But I keep track, and we're 3-1."
The team plays its games Saturdays and Sundays at Junior High West, and occasionally at the field in Mill Run.
"We try to get everybody into the games, and we want them to have fun," Russell said.
Of course, maintaining control over a bunch of enthusiastic youngsters can sometimes be a challenge.
"It's just fun," Heinbaugh said. "I like seeing the little kids have fun, and it brings back memories of the things we used to do."
Both players have developed strong relationships with their proteges.
"It's great hanging out with the kids," Russell said. "They are my friends, and it's fun to see them smile. I love them."
Sometimes, Russell and Heinbaugh are late to the youth practices because their own practices and film sessions for the high school team occasionally run long. Russell noted that sometimes it's difficult to try to explain to young kids the reasons for their coaches not being there for the start of every practice.
"That's the hardest part," Russell said.