While toiling a season as a coach is a rite of passage for many fathers, Lake Highlands mom Debbie Youman did a double take when she met the men who would be coaching her son Daniel’s neighborhood football team.

“When I learned that none of them had a child playing on the team, I thought they were nuts,” she says.

“Why would these 20- to 30-year-old men want to spend six or seven hours a week sweating over nine- and 10-year-olds they didn’t even know?”

The simple answer is: a love of football and a love of kids.

Mark Davis, or “Tank” as his players know him, serves as head coach for the Steelers. Davis assembled this group of coaches, comprised of his brother and close friends, all of whom played high school football in the neighborhood: Mark Evans, Glynn Roberts, Jaamont Humphrey, Demetric Roberts, Patrick Freeman and Chris Moore.

Through their efforts, the Spring Valley Athletic Association’s Steelers football team enjoyed three successful seasons, and young players learned valuable lessons about football and about life.

“It all started in 1995,” Davis says. “I had designed an offensive and defensive plan that I was looking to try out. Since I love kids, I thought about getting a football team together to coach as a way of testing out some of my ideas.”

Although he no longer lived in the area, Davis had fond memories of playing in the Spring Valley Athletic Association, so he approached the group.

“They gave me a shot at coaching a fourth-grade team,” he says.

While many SVAA teams hail primarily from one school or another, Davis’ team was an SVAA conglomerate made up of boys from different schools in the area. In fact, when Daniel tried out, he thought he would be placed on a team with his friends from Moss Haven Elementary.

But there were simply too many Moss Haven-area boys to put on one team, so Daniel decided to give the Steelers a chance. It’s a decision Daniel says he has never regretted…although his mother had her doubts at first.

“The first practice was three hours long on an August morning, with temperatures over 100 degrees,” Youman says.

But the young coaches immediately began building a sense of team camaraderie. They hosted pizza parties to build friendships. They tracked the boys’ school performance, insisting they maintain good grades. They developed and celebrated the boys’ individual strengths on the football field, while assigning those with particular talents to help coach the others.

Humphrey says of this whole life approach: “We coach them the way we were coached.”

Humphrey and Moore have strong memories of the almost paternal relationships they had with their football coaches.

“Coach Dubey (at Berkner) made such a huge difference in my life,” Moore says.

Each of the men can recall coaches acting as counselors, driving teachers and tutors.

“We started this as a way to try out the offense and defense I had developed,” Davis says, “but now we see it as an opportunity to give them the tools to achieve success in all aspects of their lives.”

Success wasn’t evident immediately.

“Our first scrimmage, we lost 18-0, and I was definitely worried. But Glynn and I made some changes and went on to a 7-0 season, beating the team in the playoffs that had been the champs the last three seasons,” Davis says.

SVAA teams stay together for 4th, 5th and 6th grade. So during the next three years, the brothers began to recruit friends to help coach the team. And their success on the field continued as they refined their coaching techniques.

The Steelers coaching philosophy paid off again this year, when the team went undefeated and unscored on in the regular season. The season-end award ceremony was an emotional experience for parents, players and coaches. “This is definitely the hard part,” Davis says. “But we try to keep up with all our players.”

And it’s this personal touch that sets these men apart, Youman says.

“Heroes come in all shapes and sizes,” she says. “I am always impressed when I read stories of the many volunteers in our community, with their unending devotion to those around them.

“Three years ago, I met my heroes.”