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They're getting a head start

For the past seven weeks, Clearwater Central Catholic, Dixie Hollins, Lakewood, Pinellas Park, Shorecrest and Seminole have been in a league of their own.

Go to Pinellas Park and for one day each week you can find players from each school on the football field. For the first 15 minutes you might watch Lakewood playing Dixie Hollins. Or CCC playing Seminole. Or Shorecrest playing Pinellas Park. There are a number of possibilities.

Relax. The schools aren't competing for any title. They haven't joined forces either, aligned in a new football district.

Rather it's a passing league, designed to give each school a chance to go over a part of its game that can't always be the primary focus once practice begins Aug. 6.

The league was established three years ago by Todd St. Louis, then the coach at St. Petersburg Catholic. It was assembled when the Florida High School Activities Association relaxed its rules for the summer, allowing athletes and coaches to practice as a team.

After the first year, St. Louis moved over to Indian Rocks Christian. That's when CCC coach John Davis decided to take over.

"Well, for one thing, we wanted to get the northern schools involved," Davis said. "So we said "Okay, we'll take it on.' The Fellowship of Christian Athletes sponsors it and most teams around the state conduct some kind of passing league. It helps our team immensely because it allows us to make our pass drops and run our patterns against some quicker kids from other schools. It also helps us get organized over the summer."

Davis has run the league for the past two years, although it's being held at Pinellas Park this year because CCC was having a soccer camp at the same time. For three hours (6-9 p.m.) each Wednesday, the teams scrimmage each other in seven-on-seven drills. But the same FHSAA rule that allows them to play, also prohibits contact. So, instead of flags, there is one-handed touch.

"I think it's helped our players a lot," Pinellas Park coach James Adams said. "We have a quarterback, Joe Vaughn, who is a junior and his throwing has increased dramatically. He's getting to know the receivers and gets a chance to work on some passing plays. What we're looking for is to make sure the receivers are running the proper routes and just patterns are being run and defenders are going into their proper coverages."

And while the offense dictates the flow, the defense benefits as well.

"The defenses work on coverages and stuff," Adams said. "'We have some young linebackers this year and they're starting to pick up the coverages and zones. That's something I didn't have to wait until August to go over."

This Wednesday, the teams will have their last scrimmages before heading off for practice. The next time they meet, it will count.

"I think the one thing that's helped is that The coaches have not become involved and not let our egos get in the way," Davis said. "We're not looking to beat each other out here; we're out here to learn. I don't know of anybody who's keeping score. It's really turned out to be a nice atmosphere more or less."