For more than 20 years, on just about every weeknight in the fall, the gruff and booming voice of Ken Jefferson echoed throughout Veterans Memorial Park, as did the shrill sound of a whistle and the sharp crack of pads.

Like many things over the past year-plus, those sounds – those of youth football, one of the state’s most sacred pseudo-religions – were ripped away from all of us as the COVID-19 pandemic wrapped its vice-like grip across all corners of the globe.

The park fell mostly silent last fall, with just the sounds of crickets and the rustling of trees in the wind all that could be heard on most nights.

But, now, if you take that left turn off of North Minnesota Street on a weeknight evening and lower your window just the slightest, Jefferson’s deep, gravelly baritone once again fills the air.

That throaty bass will sit in your ear like a thousand-pound gorilla, and it will ring over and over in your head.

You’ll never forget the first time you hear “Coach Ken” – as the kids, and even many parents, call him – shout “DO IT AGAIN!”

Hearing it again, after being stripped of it by the pandemic, is a welcome relief, even if it was something you thought you’d never miss.

“It feels great,” Jefferson said about being back out coaching in Beeville’s youth football league, which is operated by the Beeville Youth Sports Association (BYSA).

Kids, coaches and parents alike welcomed the return of the sport after the 2020 season was canceled in the wake of the pandemic.

This year, all four of the Beeville teams are at “maxed out,” according to BYSA president Ricardo Munoz.

“Our numbers are actually up,” said Munoz, adding that he thought it had been at least half a dozen years since every team had the maximum number of players on its roster.

“We have 30 kids on each of the teams,” Munoz said.

Munoz said he was thrilled with the response from the parents about returning to play despite the lingering effects of the pandemic.

“They were just anxious for their kids to get out and start playing football again,” he said.

And for the kids, it’s been all about excitement, Munoz added.

“For them, they are excited,” he said. “… I think for the majority of them, just participating, being outside, doing stuff again has been exciting for them.”

Ask Armando Ramirez Jr. and Jayce Rivas, and they’ll tell you they weren’t just ready to be back on the field, they were ready to start winning again.

“I feel great. We won the Super Bowl two times in a row. I just feel great about it,” said Ramirez, who is the starting quarterback for the league’s sophomore division team.

“I want to win the Super Bowl three times in a row,” he added.

Rivas is a starter on both sides of the ball for the sophomore team.

He had a simple answer to how it felt to be back on the field playing with his friends and teammates: “Good.”

“I like playing with them because they always support everybody,” he said. “I was ready to play with everybody else.”

Ramirez and Rivas helped the sophomores get off to a quick start in the 2021 season, leading the Trojans to a 27-0 win over Premont at Veterans Memorial Park Aug. 28.

It was exactly the type of start that the team needs to start building momentum toward winning a third straight Elite Youth Football League Super Bowl.

“You put a lot of effort into it,” Rivas said when asked what the Trojans need to do win it all again. “The little things make the best things at the end of practice.”

Beeville’s four teams went 3-1 during the opening weekend.

The freshman team beat Premont 21-0, while the junior team fell 19-6 to Premont.

Jefferson’s senior squad opened the year with a 27-0 victory over Yorktown.

It was a near-perfect way for a team that Jefferson said is loaded with of fresh faces to start the season.

“It’s been kind of strange. We’ve got a lot of kids this year who have never played football,” the coach said. “We only have eight returners who have any kind of playing experience; the rest of them are first timers, but they are coming along real well.”

For the newbies under Jefferson, they’ll learn two things really quick: one, Coach Ken will coach you hard but love on you harder; and two, no matter what, he’s going to tell you that this is his last year as a coach every single year.

“I hate to say it, but I’m loving it,” the coach said as his trademark hearty, bellowing chuckle rang for nearly all within earshot to hear. 

“Everybody has been teasing me about ‘Oh, this is your last year, last year.’ I’ve been saying that for like 15 years, but I keep coming back because it’s enjoyable.

“I like to see these kids, finally, when it clicks, that light bulb turns on, and you see them excel. 

“That’s enjoyable to me.”

And the fact that youth football is back after a year gone is enjoyable for us all.

•kkeller@mysoutex.com• 

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Kevin J. Keller is the content director for Coastal Bend Publishing and the editor of the Beeville Bee-Picayune. He can be reached by email at sports@mysoutex.com or by phone at 361-343-5223, or you can follow him on Twitter @beepicsports.