SCHERERVILLE | Don't ask Leonardo Mendez about the Bears' injury report, whom to start, sit and trade this Fantasy Football week, and his opinion about the latest MADDEN video game graphics.
He'll plead ignorance or indifference on all counts.
But if you want to talk about real football, Leonardo can speak in first-person.
"I can't sit in front of a TV and watch football all day," said Leonard, a two-way lineman for the Tri Town Raiders Mitey Mites football team. "I rather play it, so I don't miss anything playing on Sunday."
Teammates Drayk Bowen and Cody Goodwin concur.
"I wanted to see how fun it was (to play in helmet and pads)," said Cody, who plays running back and defensive end for the Raiders. "There's a lot to learn ... we watch a lot of film and run a lot of plays. But we all catch on, though not at first."
For the second straight season, the Raider Mitey Mites finished the regular season 8-0. During much of this stretch, the Raiders provoked running clocks while being reigned in by slaughter rules.
"But some of our opponents have given us tough games," said Drayk, a running back and linebacker. "We had to come from behind against (Kankakee Valley).
"I'm sure we're going to be tested again this year."
Aside from a scheduled flag football game against their mothers — "We're learning and practicing these plays," team mom Amy Jones said while showing a four-page playbook, "but I never caught or threw a football in my life" — the Mitey Mites' biggest challenge of the season will likely come at the Pop Warner National Championships.
"It's been a while for us, but we're going back down," said Tri Town Raiders president and Mitey Mites head coach Tim Arvanitis. "They selected 16 (Mitey Mite) teams from across the country, and because of the success we've enjoyed these past seasons, they selected us to represent the Midwest."
The Mitey Mite division is designated for players ages 7-9 who weigh between 45-90 pounds. The division had been excluded from the PW National Championships (also referred to as the PW Super Bowl) until 2011 when eight teams were selected as part of the inaugural Mitey Mite Bowl.
Tri Town has made numerous trips to the National Championships, the last in 2007.
"We've been a little down since then while some of the other programs around here have improved," Arvanitis said. "But these little guys are really something.
"I don't know how many will stay with football. That's always hard to tell, but we run three offensive sets with 45 plays that work. We use the same verbiage as high school teams, so a lot of these guys should be more than ready if and when they get to that level."
To help cover the cost of the trip, Tri Town is holding a fundraiser from 3 to 8 p.m. Nov. 16 at Blue 82 in St. John — across U.S. 41 from Lake Central — and has also set up a donation link.
"We still have some teams alive in the postseason [as of last week], and we'll likely have some dance and cheer teams making it down there," Arvanitis said. "This program may end up sending 100 or more kids to Florida.
"That would be an expensive trip."