When the coaches bring the players together to form a circle for the Hamburger Drill, a crowd moves closer. Even parents of boys in other weight classes, practicing nearby, wander over. "They just want to see somebody get hurt," says Sha-nise.
The coach gives the ball to Brandon, the Warriors' experienced running back, and matches him up with Arlis, who is in his first year of Pop Warner and has never worn football equipment before. Over his shoulder pads he wears a baggy white T-shirt decorated with Bugs Bunny and other cartoon characters, including Marvin the Martian and the Road Runner. Porky Pig announces, "That's all, folks!"
On go! both players jump to their feet. Brandon gets low; Arlis stands up straight, hesitant, and Brandon spears him in the gut with his helmet.
Foom! The crowd howls as Arlis goes down. A coach cackles. "That is how you run the ball! Show 'em you ain't scared!"
Two boys grab Arlis and stand him up. "Better learn to stay low," another coach tells Arlis. "Otherwise, you gonna get hurt."
"Some of the boys, they can't wait to put on the pads," says Sha-nise. "They want to hurt someone. They got anger. Some out here, they think they hard, but when they get in there"—indicating the pit—"they get scared." She turns back to the Hamburger Drill as another kid flattens his would-be tackier. "But most of the boys around here, they pretty tough."
Ed, the warriors' offensive line coach, sits atop a railing near the Hadley Park lot, reading Bible passages out of a pamphlet so small he could have found it in a Cracker Jack box. With breath that stinks of cigarettes he repeats a mantra five times before closing the pamphlet: "God be merciful on this sinner." He then hops off the rail, pulls on his yellow Warriors polo shirt and wades into the crowd of Warriors gathering on the concrete for a bus ride to their first road game—they won their season opener by forfeit—against the Goulds Rams.
"We going down south," says Stevie, a cornerback who idolizes Deion Sanders—he mimics the former NFL superstar in attitude and in ghetto-fabulous jewelry (in Stevie's case, plastic). Stevie wears jersey number 22, in honor of his idol. When it's pointed out that Sanders wore 21, Stevie looks down at his uniform for five seconds, then looks up sheepishly. "I guess I made a mistake," he says softly.
When Diamond joins the group of players gathering near Ed, he drops his black-and-yellow equipment bag on the ground and starts to put on his game uniform. Players remove hip and thigh pads from their practice pants and stuff them into the pockets of their clean black game pants. Socks and pads are tossed into duffel bags. One of the coaches uses a straightened wire hanger to push belts through pant loops.
Antwane, the Warriors' quarterback, doesn't need a belt. In the preliminary team weigh-in he was about a pound too heavy, so the coaches have him sweat off a few pounds by walking around the basketball courts for 40 minutes.