If the 7 on 7 league that concluded a six-week run Wednesday at St. Charles Catholic in Laplace is an accurate barometer, area high school football teams should be in sound shape entering fall practice.
“You come out of here playing almost 30 games in the summer. You will get better and tougher. That’s what 7 on 7 is about to me. It’s not about the championships going on all over; it’s about getting better as a team,” said Nelson Stewart, coach of the Newman Greenies.
Like Stewart’s Greenies, the other 11 schools seemed to show progress from the start of the league to its ending.
“I thought we progressed very, very well. We found out a lot about ourselves, to see who and play and who will compete and who won’t compete,” said St. Charles Comets coach Frank Monica.
The workouts in the league, Monica said, helped the coaching staff to evaluate the Comets, particularly with the receivers and in the defensive secondary.
“We learned some things about some guys in the secondary and that’s what it’s all about. We had to find out who can learn our system and who can adjust and can make those plays when they have to be made,” Monica said.
Although 12 teams took part in the league, eight were generally in action at one time as the schools gathered each Wednesday morning of the early summer.
Along with St. Charles and Newman, other schools taking part in the league included East St. John, Lutcher, East Ascension, John Ehret, Shaw, St. Amant, Loranger, Jesuit, Bonnabel and De La Salle.
“I love the intensity of it,” East Ascension coach Darnell Lee said of 7 on 7 football. “I coached in Arena Football and that’s pretty much what it is. One play can go to the house on you and it doesn’t necessarily have to be the fastest guy. Assignment sound is what you have to be and the guys have to hustle.”
Most teams took the approach of starting off rather basic and added more and more to the offensive and defensive playbook as the sessions progressed.
“We believe in mastery of a few things,” said Stewart. “We add a few tags, one or two things, but we stay true to what we are. I think there’s a lot left in terms of where we want to grow. We didn’t want to water in down with a ton of stuff. For us, it’s really master eight to 10 concepts, offensively, defensively and a few coverages.”
“We always start out with the basics. We stress fundaments. We come out here and we are not adjusting to who we are playing. We are more or less concerned with how we do what we do. Later in the summer, we start adjusting to who we are playing and make adjustments on the run. That’s what our kids have to do to be successful,” said Lee.
“We basically took whatever we installed during our summer practices and we would emphasize those in certain weeks but at the end it was all in to see what we could throw at them and see exactly how they would respond,” Monica said.
For coach Brandon Brown and his East St. John Wildcats, the 7 on 7 play allowed for his defense to fine tune things with the scheme while allowing the offense to learn a new system under Larry Dauterive, the former ESJ coach who has returned as the team’s offensive coordinator.
“We are going into Year Two of the defense,” Brown said. “With Coach ‘Doe’ coming in, he’s been able to implement everything and we just have gotten better week by week.
“We are better right now mentally. Our guys understand now the terminology offensively and defensively and they just understand expectations. Our attitude and effort has been amazing all summer.”
The experience of playing in the 7-on-7 league has helped team build depth.
No team needed that more than Lutcher, which has suffered a rash of injuries.
“For us, it’s been an adventure with injuries,” said Lutcher coach Dwain Jenkins. “We got through the spring without having very many injuries but it seems like we have had to test our depth this summer.
Starting Week 1 (of 7 on 7 play) we didn’t have Mekhi Patterson, who will be our starting quarterback. D’Wanye Winfield played that whole first week. The next week, we lost Noah Detillier, who we think will be one of our starters for us. He hasn’t played the rest of the summer. The third week we lost Cam Amato for the season with a torn ACL.”
Detillier and Amato were projected as likely starters on offense. Detillier is recovering from an injury dating back to baseball season and is expected back for the start of the season.
“One week we had a group of freshmen receivers out here having to run (the offense),” said Jenkins.
If there is a silver lining, it’s the added experience those receivers and others have experienced in the summer.
“We think it’s allowed us to get some (depth) in some areas and see some guys that we didn’t know what they could do. We really had to build our depth,” Jenkins said.
One aspect of the 7 on 7 league that many of the coaches said they liked is the like-minded approach of their counterparts.
“We come and do this league because of the opportunity to teach and learn,” said Jenkins. “It does get repetitive but I think sometimes when you get in those leagues, the desire to win over-rides the desire to coach and learn.
“You have 8-12 programs that have the same philosophy on what the summer is for as far as improving and getting better and not necessarily taking score.”