Sunday, May 20, 2018
Sports

High school football practices take advantage of summer with 7-on-7 play

TAMPA — Although current Bloomingdale football coach John Booth graduated from high school a little more than a decade ago, summertime routines from that time period seem somewhat Paleolithic.

Booth, a 2000 Manatee graduate, spent the summers back then pumping iron or running around the track.

"Football has certainly become much more of a year-round sport, even since I played in high school," Booth said. "It's changed a lot."

Even at a state powerhouse like Manatee, there was little in the way of structure.

"The coaches would basically just open up the weight room and have us come and go as we please," Booth said. "Summer was far less committed back then."

But 7-on-7 changed all of that.

The touch football game has become the norm for the vast majority of players in the summer, with pass patterns replacing wind sprints. The contests pit skill position players against each other: a quarterback, running backs and receivers on the offense; linebackers, cornerbacks and safeties on the defense. Every play is a passing play and there is no hitting.

"I think it's very important for the kids," Spoto coach Dale Caparaso said. "We are playing in four tournaments."

Although there is no doubt 7-on-7's appeal is on the rise — there are tournaments across the state during the summer — not every coach is sold on the idea.

"I think it has its benefits but it's gotten so competitive to the point where teams aren't just fine-tuning their offense, they are actually putting in new offenses for these summer tournaments," said Booth, whose Bulls play in one tournament.

"If you're not practicing the plays that you're going to use in the fall, I think that can be counterproductive."

Booth is also concerned with the wares being offered. Some tournament sponsors are awarding equipment, trips and even cash prizes to winning teams.

"One of the big problems I have is that kids are kind of starting to lose their amateur status a little bit," he said. "I mean, these tournaments are on ESPN now. I think we're putting these kids on too high of a pedestal too soon and the purity is somewhat being lost."

One thing most coaches agree upon is that 7-on-7 creates a level of competition that workouts at school cannot duplicate.

"I love the competition aspect of it," Booth said. "You get to see how guys react in competitive situations they will be in when the games do start to count."

Caparaso agreed, saying it also motivates kids by keeping sometimes stale traditional summer conditioning fresh.

"It's a tremendous tool from the competition aspect," he said. "And it breaks up the running and conditioning, so I know the kids like it."

In terms of recruiting, the jury is still out on how much, if at all, 7-on-7 tournaments help players. Caparaso said these tournaments can "get guys on college radars" but only if the right people are in attendance."

Travel all-star teams are now starting to pop up, including Team Tampa, which features rising seniors including Armwood's Alvin Bailey and Wharton's Vernon Hargeaves. The team recently won a national tournament at Bradenton's IMG Academy. But Booth cautioned some players' expectations are too lofty in terms of how much 7-on-7 helps in recruiting.

"It's tough because it's not the same as when there is a guy rushing (the quarterback) or when there is hitting," Booth said. "And a lot of these kids think if they can get on a travel team, then they are automatically going (Division I). That's just not the reality."

Brandon Wright can be reached at [email protected]

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