ST. MARYS, Pa. (EYT/D9) — For a quarterback, it’s a dream.
(Above photo, Redbank Valley takes part in a 7-on-7 tournament this summer at Penn State University.)
No rush from defensive lineman. No blitzing linebackers barreling through a gap. No speedy corners sprinting in from the edge.
No blindside hits.
As more high school football teams move away from the old-school, power running game to the finesse of the spread, passing attacks, 7-on-7 scrimmages — even tournaments — during the summer have grown in popularity.
For Brockway sophomore quarterback Brayden Fox, the 7-on-7s have been invaluable to get on the same page with his bevy of receivers.
He tries to make it as close to the real thing as possible, even simulating “ghost” pass rushers.
Brockway coaches put Fox on a clock. Fox also has an internal countdown of when he must deliver the football.
“We have a clock and I try to get the ball out before then,” said Fox, who made quite a debut for the Rovers last season. The lefty threw for 2,568 yards and 23 touchdowns as a freshman. “The biggest thing for me is getting my reads and timing down.”
The drills and scrimmages are very beneficials for teams with young QBs — like Brockway and Fox. They are also paramount for teams breaking in a new signal caller.
“I think it’s really important,” said Redbank Valley coach Blane Gold, who has a new starter at quarterback in the Bulldogs’ dangerous pass-oriented offense — sort of. Senior Cam Wagner will take over for Bryson Bain, who graduated after tossing 30 TD passes and helping lead the Bulldogs to a District 9 Class A championship and an appearance in the PIAA title game. Two years ago, Wagner saw some time at QB and won two playoff games as a starter.
“Especially with Cam,” Gold added. “for getting his timing down pat with those guys and competing. We went to a 70 team tournament at Penn State and three of the five teams we played were in the final four. Just seeing that speed and trying to teach these guys to play at that high level is good. We went 1-5 that day, but we learned a lot about ourselves.”
Wagner also found the experience valuable.
He has a group of speedy receivers to throw to this season, led by seniors Tate Minich and Aiden Ortz.
“Overall in the 7-on-7s this summer, I felt real confident,” Wagner said.
When it comes to potent passing attacks, Brookville has certainly had its fair share over the years with Jack Krug and now his younger brother, Charlie Krug, at the controls.
(Brockway quarterback Brayden Fox, and other signal callers like him, don’t have to worry about a rush like this one against Keystone last season in 7-on-7 drills. With no defenders coming at him, Fox is free to build chemistry and timing with his receivers in the scrimmages/photo by Shelly Atzeni)
Coach Scott Park relishes the chance to see what his team can do in 7-on-7 scrimmages and tournaments.
“I think the biggest benefit is competition,” Park said. “We can sit in Brookville and do our own work on our offensive stuff, but it’s not the same as when you’re going against a team that’s being competitive. It really helps the quarterbacks, I think, to work on their progressions without having to worry about the rush coming, so when we get to regular football, they have their reads down.”
Park also likes them for another important reason.
“The guys have a lot of fun,” he said.
But these 7-on-7 drills aren’t just the domain of the offenses.
Coaches say the defenses also get a boost from the competition.
For a team like Karns City, which heavily favors the running game over the pass, in an age with more and more pass-happy opponents, 7-on-7s give the Gremlins a chance to get much-needed work in the secondary.
“I think it benefits us more defensively,” said Karns City coach Joe Sherwin. “It allows us to really get our coverages down that we’re going to be playing, get the communication down on defense.”
There are, though, some inherent flaws with 7-on-7s.
“One thing you have to keep in perspective,” Gold said, “is it is football in shorts.”
Sherwin limited the number of 7-on-7 scrimmages his team participated in this summer for that reason.
“Sometimes you get a false sense of security,” Sherwin said. “Quarterbacks can sit back there, nobody’s rushing, nobody’s rushing linebackers and they’re flying around in coverage. That’s why we only do some of them and don’t go overboard. You can develop some bad habits from them.”
First-year Keystone coach Todd Smith wants his team to be balanced offensively this year.
But make no mistake about it — he also wants to run the football.
His offenses have been dangerous in his stops at Clarion-Limestone as an offensive coordinator as well as a head coach, and most recently as the OC in Butler, because of its balance.
Smith sees 7-on-7s as a double-edged sword.
“I’m not a huge fan of 7-on-7s because it’s not real football,” Smith said. “You can’t play-action. Teams play different coverages that you wouldn’t typically be able to play in a game when you’re worried about the running game. But there are benefits and we fared pretty well in our 7-on-7s this summer.
“The most fun one that we went to was the one at Slippery Rock,” Smith added. “They had, along with the 7-on-7, a big-man challenge and our line performed really well. We were six out of 16 teams and the only Class A team that was there, and the guys loved it. They were second in the tug of war.”
Even Brockway coach Jake Heigel sees some problems with 7-on-7s — but not enough to shun them completely.
“I think it’s great offensively to get a rhythm and to get a connection and to understand what guys can do,” Heigel said. “But it’s not reality. Flag football is probably closer to real football than 7-on-7s, but I think there’s a purpose for it. I think we were in a really good spot where we didn’t do too many of them, but enough of them to kind of give us an indication of what we can be.”
The 7-on-7s aren’t going anywhere any time soon.
Not everyone is on board with them. Not every team does them.
“We have not done any 7-on-7s this year,” said Union/A-C Valley coach Brad Dittman. “We’re behind the times when it comes to the 7-on-7s, but we’re OK. We got practice time in. We got our workouts in. So we’ll be alright.”