For many high school sports, teams can spend the summer competing against other schools in real games.
Prep football teams can’t strap on their helmets and pads and play games against opposing schools in the offseason.
That’s why there’s 7-on-7.
“Summer baseball plays actual games, summer basketball plays actual games and softball plays actual games,” L-P football coach Joe Sassano said. “Football is the one sport you can’t go out there and compete — at least not 11-on-11.
However, we can at least get some kind of game action with 7-on-7.
“It’s really the only thing we can do in the summer as a football program to get competition against other schools.”
The 7-on-7 games and tournaments pit a quarterback and six running backs/receivers against seven linebackers/defensive backs in a passing-only game.
In general, the games are one-hand touch and quarterbacks have four seconds to get rid of the ball, but other rules such as scoring and length of field vary from school to school.
At Mendota — which has played host to several nights of games between local teams this summer — there’s no score kept. Each team gets 10 plays from the 40-yard line and five plays from the 10-yard line.
“For all your skill kids, it’s a chance to really emphasize your passing game offensively and your pass defense,” Sassano said.
For pass-heavy teams like La Salle-Peru, it can be very beneficial for its offense.
The Cavaliers start the summer using their base package — and rely mainly on players remembering the offense from the past — and add more intricacies in as the summer goes.
“As we go along, we’ll put little nuances in,” said Sassano, whose team played in a tournament at the University of Notre Dame in June and competed against Hall, Ottawa and Mendota on Tuesday in Mendota. “We’ll find out who can do what and what kind of playmakers we have and what kind of routes, quarterback drops and formations we’re going to use.”
Even for predominantly run-based offenses like Hall and Mendota, 7-on-7 games can help offensively.
The Red Devils, for instance, use 7-on-7 to put in their doubles and trips packages.
For the Trojans, it’s impossible to simulate their play-action passing offense without a running game, but 7-on-7 can still benefit MHS quarterback Jake Buchanan.
“It’s a little bit difficult to sell the play action in 7-on-7, but at the same time, it does a nice job because our quarterback still has to learn where the open zones are in zone coverage and how to hit the receiver against man coverage,” said Mendota coach Brock Sondgeroth, who uses 7-on-7 days to work on pass offense and defense and camp days to focus on the running game.
The 7-on-7 games can also be beneficial in helping solve quarterback battles.
L-P lost three-year starter Zack Cinotto to graduation, so this summer Colby Sassano, Cam Mignone and Jake Doyle have been competing to replace him.
“For us, with the fact that we don’t have a returning starter coming back, it gives our quarterbacks a chance to compete for the starting position,” Joe Sassano said. “It gives us a chance as coaches and players to see who could be the guy who is going to lead the team.”
Hall also has a battle going between St. Bede transfer Taggart Venegas and Julian Barroso.
“Both of our quarterbacks have been getting plenty of reps,” Hall coach Randy Tieman said. “We’ll be able to determine who’s going to play.”
No matter what type of offense a team runs, 7-on-7s are beneficial to the defense.
“For our program, I think it benefits us more defensively,” said Tieman, whose squad has played in a couple 7-on-7 nights at Mendota and in a tournament at Aurora Central Catholic. “We get to work on a lot of our coverages and get that stuff in over the summer. It’s helped quite a bit this year.”
Sassano said 7-on-7 helps defenders learn to read opposing offenses.
“It helps our guys be able to recognize formations and be able to line up and handle receivers,” Sassano said. “It helps us with route recognition. We put in our zone packages and man packages (during 7-on-7). We try to find out who can play man and who might be our best man cover guy, and who understands pursuit angles and leverage.”
While 7-on-7 games are strictly for skill position players, linemen aren’t left out completely.
At many tournaments, there will be linemen challenges for the big boys where they work on fundamentals, do drills and participate in different competitions.
Teams only have a few more weeks to participate in 7-on-7s before the non-contact date starts Aug. 1 and real practices begin Aug. 14.
Kevin Chlum can be reached at 220-6939, or at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @NT_SportsEditor.