TAMPA — Hillsborough coach Earl Garcia remembers when 7-on-7 competitions were unheard of, when the idea of organized summer football was illegal.
"You used to have to sneak over to a park under the dark of night and wear masks," Garcia said jokingly. "It used to be called cheating. Now it's called hard work."
It's also now commonplace.
"It's either get on board, or get left behind," Blake coach Sean Washington said.
Starting this week, 10 county teams will participate in a 7-on-7 league at Chamberlain every Wednesday for the next six weeks. It offers a chance for teams to set the foundation of success for the upcoming season or for new players to grow accustomed to their new teams.
Of the 10 teams participating, three have quarterbacks who have received Division I-A offers — Plant's Aaron Murray, Chamberlain's Dontae Aycock and Hillsborough's Tarean Austin. For some, though, the value is just getting precious extra repetitions.
"We look at it for what it is, 7-on-7 ball," Garcia said. "It's extra practice. No more and no less. We're not going to look at the scores or anything. Times have changed so much. Now we start up in January, so if you're seeing too much new a month before preseason practice, you might be in trouble.
"I'd rather have a good team in September than a good 7-on-7 team in July,"
As true as that may be, the competition is seen as "crucial" to a program such as Blake.
The Yellow Jackets scrapped a run-oriented offensive scheme this spring in favor of the spread, which relies much more on the pass. Because the team also has a new quarterback in place, any extra time on the field is invaluable.
"This will make my kids better," Washington said.
Alonso faces a similar task.
A year ago, the Ravens passed only about five or six times a game. But this fall, that number should significantly increase.
"We're going to be a little more open this year, to say the least," Alonso coach Mike Heldt said. "This is real important for us, to get all of our timing down offensively. And it carries into the fall.
"You only get two or three weeks to get ready for the season once practice starts, and that's just not enough time."
The league isn't just about offense.
"It's good for defensive backs and linebackers, also," Washington said. "They get reps, too."