WESLEY CHAPEL — Extended spring football practice has again gripped the North Suncoast.
In what has become a school's-out tradition, many teams are participating in the annual seven-on-seven league Tuesday nights at various sites in Pasco County. Games take place through the end of July.
On the opening night at Wiregrass Ranch, the intensity was relatively lacking.
Instead of planting themselves on opposing sidelines, coaches like Land O'Lakes' Matt Kitchie and Zephyrhills' Reggie Roberts traded smiles and friendly barbs that are nowhere to be found on Friday nights in the fall.
And who knew players such as Pasco's Hakeeme Ishmar, Land O'Lakes' Stevie Weatherford and Zephyrhills' Chris Reaves were such good friends? They were palling around by the end of the night.
There were no-shows in Sunlake and Hudson, and even Pasco (without coach Tom McHugh) sent its JV players against some varsity rosters as standouts such as Pirates quarterback Jacob Guy (again, not playing) surveyed the scene.
Interestingly enough, a smattering of fans watched from both sides of metal bleachers (admission was free).
Of course, one has to wonder what the teams get out of this extra football.
Land O'Lakes might be one of the better examples.
The Gators' pass-dominated offense is led by Weatherford, currently being courted by several Division I-A universities including USF, Cincinnati and East Carolina.
Everyone is dressed in T-shirts and shorts, so when Weatherford calls for the snap and drops back, he's not facing a pass rush and there's no threat of having his block knocked off.
"You have to keep the clock in your head," Weatherford said. "You only have four seconds to throw the ball."
On this night, Land O'Lakes did not lose and Weatherford had another satisfying outing. The benefit for him is an opportunity to work with some new go-to receivers, such as Will Irwin and Jason Tello.
"You get to go over your plays over and over against live defenses, different defenses," Weatherford said. "… We run our offense out here. Most teams probably don't. We do because when the season comes we want our plays to be crisp, on point. That's how Plant is, every time."
This also has become an opportunity for some players to earn starting jobs.
Cornerback Nico Watts benefited last year when the Gators participated in their first seven-on-seven league with a new coaching staff.
"Last year, Nico Watts was buried on the depth chart at corner when I got there," defensive coordinator Jason Hatcher said. "He was a third-string cornerback. He was the best cornerback on the field by far. He made plays in seven-on-seven I didn't think high school kids could make.
"That's when I found out Nico Watts could play corner."
One guy who had a nice breakout performance Tuesday was Gators defender Wesley Moore, who finished with a pair of interceptions. Moore said this was an opportunity to work on speed, reading defenses and quarterbacks.
And making plays certainly helps feed the ego.
"It gives you a boost," Moore said. "It lets you know you are able to compete with these people."
Izzy Gould can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 421-3886.