By MITCH WILSTON
Are you ready for some football?
Times Observer photo by Mitchell Wilston
Johnny on the spot
Eisenhower’s Johnny Pascuzzi, left, looks for a pass in the Corry 7-on-7 Passing Tournament on Saturday in Corry.
Not quite football season, the summer sport of seven-on-seven football is growing in popularity - for Pennsylvania coaches, especially, as a head start to the high school season in the fall.
On Saturday, Eisenhower football players took their talents to Corry, where they played in a 16-team seven-on-seven tournament. This was two weeks after Eisenhower placed second in a Sheffield 7-on-7 tournament.
Eisenhower coach Jim Penley explained how the contactless passing game helps the high school level players.
"It's an opportunity for football teams to actually get out and be competitive," said Penley. "You know basketball and a lot of other sports, you can do summer basketball, you can do all kinds of the Legion baseball. Just about every sport you have the opportunity to go out and do stuff. But football, you can't get in pads the rest of the year and do anything, so for us it's an opportunity to get our guys together and, even though it's not a complete game, you have the opportunity to go out and be competitive together on the field. You can start building some camaraderie, but it's also about being able to get your defensive and offensive playbook in."
While exact rules differ from tournament to tournament, the basic rules are simple. On offense, the quarterback and his six receivers have a forty-yard field to drive down, with the opportunity for a new set of downs at the 20-yard line. Six points are awarded for a touchdown, one point for a PAT from the three-yard line, and two points are awarded for a PAT from the 10-yard line. For the seven players on defense, the opportunity to score is a little more prevalent than traditional football. Although an intercepted pass is a dead ball, four points are awarded to the defense. Defenses can also earn two points by earning a stop (not letting the offense score).
With little clock stoppage and much less time between downs, seven-on-seven is fast-paced, and high-scoring, and the excitement of that is what has grown the off-season drill into something of a second season.
"For us, personally, we don't put nearly as much time into the seven-on-seven aspect as a lot of people do," said Penley. "We want to focus on our season that's coming up, but it definitely can be a second season."
"During the summer, if we wanted to, we could be playing every weekend and a couple days a week. Corry, who is operating this tournament, they play seven-on-seven almost every night with somebody."
For Eisenhower, the extra time on the field, since seven-on-seven has grown, has shown its benefits.
"You definitely get a closer team because you're able to get into battle a lot earlier without actually getting the pads on," said Penley.
But the main thing is, "it gets them thinking football," he said.
For the linebackers this means help getting into their drops. For the corners it's being able to run crisp routes.
"It's tremendous for the quarterbacks because the quarterback is able to be getting into his throws and is seeing his reads and progressions," said Penley.
Seven-on-seven is not a sport for the big boys.
"It's kind of tough. We try to do stuff with our linemen in the summer, but linemen are tough," said Penley, a former college lineman himself. "What they do is they go out and they bang-it's all about the hitting. Until you can get into the hitting, it's really hard to get into the feel of things."
After placing fifth out of 16 teams in the Corry seven-on-seven, Eisenhower will look to rebound from last year's winless season as high school practices loom just around the corner.
"It's only affiliation with Eisenhower is the name," said Penley. "Obviously, it's our football team, but none of it is mandatory because none of the stuff we do in the summer is mandatory."
Players are going to have other commitments in the summer, including camps for other sports, he said.
"Everything they are doing, it's non-school related, so, generally, when they're in there, it's covered by their own insurance," he said.
But, for most, it's the first football conditioning they do in preparation for the high school season. It's become the unofficial start of the high school sports season as team conditioning workouts and camps often follow.
"It's a great lead-in to conditioning," said Penley.
And without getting dominated by school affiliation - in other words, height, size and numbers, Eisenhower has historically done well at seven-on-seven team tournaments in the summer. That includes wins over Cathedral Prep and McDowell.
While the Knights, and teams, can't get overconfident about what they take from seven-on-seven football, it does give high school teams a head start at certain phases of the game.
"Real football is starting now," said Penley. "Now we've got to take this confidence into real football."