Passing leagues gaining in popularity

High school football, like many other interscholastic sports, has evolved from being a seasonal endeavor to a year-round commitment.

And passing tournaments like the 7-on-7 competitions that have taken place throughout the state and country each summer are the centerpieces of offseason preparation for many schools.

Hollidaysburg was one of 16 teams from 15 schools to participate in a 7-on-7 passing tournament June 27 on the campus of St. Francis University.

It was the second appearance in a 7-on-7 tournament in the space of a week for the Golden Tigers, who participated in a 20-team event at Juniata College earlier in June and took part in a 16-team event July 3 at Northern Bedford High School.

“A lot of college campuses are hosting 7-on-7’s,” Hollidaysburg coach Homer DeLattre said. “They’re real popular, especially down South. It’s something that is becoming a must for teams to enter during the summer.”

The 7-on-7 competitions involve skill-position players only on offense, lining up against linebackers and defensive backs on defense. There are no linemen involved in the competitions on either side of the ball.

“Timing between quarterbacks and receivers is critical, and I think the biggest thing is that these events present opportunities for offenses to work together, and for defenders to work against other teams in one-on-one and man-to-man coverage,” DeLattre said.

The competitions don’t involve tackling – “It’s just [one-hand] touch football basically, and they stress that players stay on their feet and not get injured,” DeLattre said – and offenses begin series 40 yards from the goal line, with four downs to get to the 20-yard line for a first down.

The scoring systems in the competitions vary. In both the St. Francis and Juniata events, six points were awarded for touchdowns. After touchdowns, teams could choose to go for one point with passing plays from 3 yards out, or opt to go for two points with passing plays from 5 yards out.

At St. Francis, no points were awarded a team for defensive plays like interceptions, but in the Juniata event, teams were awarded three points for each interception, and two points for each time they stopped opposing offenses from scoring during a series.

In the St. Francis event, Hollidaysburg posted a 5-1 record in the games, which were played for 30 minutes with a continous running clock.

Bishop Guilfoyle won the all-day St. Francis event with a perfect 8-0 record, beating a traveling squad from Rochester, N.Y. that was not affiliated with any high school in the championship game.

“They were definitely a challenge,” BG coach Justin Wheeler said of the Rochester squad. “They scored five or six touchdowns a game. We won the championship by winning four games in the morning, then winning four more in the afternoon. We got a chance to showcase our kids to other teams that you don’t often see, and to the college coaches at St. Francis.”

Two of Bishop Guilfoyle’s offensive standouts, seniors-to-be Brandon Chadbourn and Sam McCloskey, have already been offered football scholarships by Division I-AA St. Francis.

Chadbourn got the opportunity to hone his skills at quarterback on offense and safety on defense.

“There was a lot of good competition, and it really helps us get our passing game down,” Chadbourn said. “And playing safety, you get into a lot of pass coverage that you normally don’t get at practice or even during a game.”

The 7-on-7 tournaments also serve as a good measuring stick for the strengths and weaknesses of each offensive and defensive unit.

“It shows us what we’re good at, and what we have to work on to get ready for the season,” Chadbourn said.

Veteran Portage coach Gary Gouse brought two squads – a varsity team made up of incoming seniors and juniors, and a junior varsity squad comprised of incoming sophomores and freshmen – to the St. Francis event.

“We were the only team that had a jayvee squad there, and our younger kids played against varsity opponents and did all right,” Gouse said.

Earlier in the summer, Gouse took his Portage upperclassmen to an elite 7-on-7 tournament at the University of Pittsburgh.

“You have to get invited to that one,” Gouse said. “We played against programs like North Hills and North Catholic, and went 4-3. At the Pitt tournament, you get to play against the best of the best. Some of those guys wind up in the NFL.”

While full-contact drills won’t officially begin in summer camps until mid-August, the June 7-on-7 events provide a great combination of both prep and reps.

“This is a good way to get kids acclimated to playing football,” Gouse said.