Summer league gives football teams chemistry, rhythm
By Kyle LoJacono
June 19 marked the start of the North Suncoast 7 on 7 Passing League, giving football teams in Pasco and Hernando counties the chance to sharpen their skills before the fall.
Games are each Tuesday at two locations in either Pasco and/or Hernando counties, with eight teams scheduled for each site. Squads play for about 20 minutes before rotating, allowing players and coaches to see different offensive and defensive schemes.
“It’s an opportunity to compete against other people,” said third-year Wesley Chapel coach Ben Alford. “Having a little bit of competition during the summer is a good thing to keep them in the flow. You also get to see a bunch of different teams each day instead of just playing against your teammates in practice.
“You can go undefeated in 7 on 7 and not win a game during the fall, but I think it helps guys build confidence,” Alford continued. “Especially the younger guys can start feeling some confidence.”
The biggest benefits usually materialize for teams looking to replace key playmakers. Wesley Chapel falls into this category, as the squad graduated 19 seniors, including a Pasco County-leading 13 who signed to play in college.
One of the few Wildcats back with experience is sophomore quarterback Ty Tanner, who started the second half of 2011 under center.
“The biggest thing is just us getting used to each other,” Tanner said. “It’s good for everybody because we can get the timing down, and it’s just fun to play 7 on 7. … We need to get every rep we can, and take everything seriously. We need to get every play straight so that we don’t have to think about it in the fall.”
Tanner also played in the league last year and said that experience helped him transition easier to the fall season, but he did admit the lack of pads and helmets does take some of the fun out of it.
“The thing is, I can’t get mad and hit somebody like I can with pads on,” Tanner said with a smile. “I want to hit somebody, but it’s still fun.”
Wiregrass Ranch was hurt less by graduation, losing 14 seniors, but the Bulls are still figuring out who will start at quarterback.
Sophomore Shane Bucenell, who was Wiregrass Ranch’s junior varsity starting quarterback last season, took the majority of reps under center in Week 1, while senior Jake Day played mostly at wide receiver and cornerback.
A lot of passing goes on, which is how the league got its name, but second-year Land O’ Lakes coach Brian Watchel said it is just as beneficial for the defenders on the field.
“There’s a million different offenses people can run, and you have to be able to check and adjust,” Watchel said. “If you can’t check and adjust you’re in trouble, and this gives us a chance to see a bunch of different teams each week, one right after the other.”
It is that very reason some programs stay away from the league.
Zephyrhills participated two years ago, Reggie Roberts’ first summer as the squad’s coach. The Bulldogs opted out of 7 on 7 last season, but are back to prepare for the 2012 campaign.
“Last year we were installing a new offense, a primary run offense running the flexbone,” Roberts said. “We went to a flexbone camp and spent a lot of time teaching that and putting it in all summer. This year we can do multiple things, and I think 7 on 7 will help us getting our timing down and get our quarterbacks some experience.”
Jeremy Shobe has had his Bulls compete in the league since he took over the program in 2008. Along with reps and timing, he said 7 on 7 helps break up summer conditioning and weightlifting sessions while also identifying which kids are dedicated.
“Right now it’s about who’s committed and who’s putting in the time to develop,” Shobe said. “That shows who’s ready for when the real football starts in the fall, so the coaches are looking for who’s here and who is working and not just going through the motions.”
And whenever different teams are competing, the players still want to win, even if there are no pads, helmets or lineman on a Tuesday afternoon instead of under the lights on Friday nights.
“I still want to do really good out here each week,” said Sunlake senior quarterback Josh Zifer. “I’m coming out and treating it like a game.”
Teams will take next week off because of Independence Day. Land O’ Lakes, Pasco, Sunlake, Wesley Chapel, Wiregrass Ranch and Zephyrhills will be six of the eight squads competing at Land O’ Lakes High on July 10 at 5:30 p.m. Admission is free.