It’s like pick-up football on the playground.
A bunch of guys get together, receivers go out for passes and the quarterback tries to find the open man.
After the designated 25 minutes, the winners celebrate like they just won a championship.
It is the 7-on-7 passing games in Arizona high schools that have turned June into a season in itself, without the hard-shell helmets and shoulder pads but with the intensity of tackle football in September.
“When they win, they lose their freaking minds,” Mesa Desert Ridge coach Jeremy Hathcock said. “They trash talk like they’re in the NFL. It’s hilarious. It’s unruly.”
Sending a message
Phoenix Arcadia is trying to make a statement under new coach Kerry Taylor, a former Chandler Hamilton High, Arizona State and NFL wide receiver. And his Titans are doing that in 7-on-7 tournaments to let people know they’re not going to get stomped on.
Last year, Arcadia got outscored 472-29 and went winless, losing all ten games it played.
In the first tournament at Phoenix Central, where there were no certified referees, Arcadia fought back and things got chippy. The Titans, in fact, were kicked out midway through their fourth game.
“Arcadia is known as a program that is stepped over and not respected by a lot of teams,” Taylor said. “This year, we had to make a statement on how hard we compete, sending a message we aren’t going to be walked on.
“A lot of teams thought they were going to play a 0-10 team from last year. We told them, ‘This is not last year’s team. You’re going to have to play a lot harder.’
“We were beating a lot of teams. I think they felt embarrassed. That calls for confrontations.”
Some tournaments use certified referees. Others self-officiate between coaches.
“I think 7-on-7 is great for the QB and receivers to build chemistry and compete against other schools and see different coverages,” Central offensive coordinator Chandler Hovik said in a message. “But there are some coaches who are willing to risk all football technique and do whatever they have to do to win 7-on-7, which makes it unrealistic at times. Defenders holding guys 10 yards off the ball. Quarterbacks not even dropping back, just standing there to throw. And when there are no refs, some coaches refuse to believe that their team is doing anything illegal football-wise during the game and that’s when issues occur.
“You have to hold your players accountable whether it’s 7-on-7 or regular season.”
‘Out of control’
Tempe McClintock second-year coach Corbin Smith believes 7-on-7s are “out of control.”
“I think the concept is great,” he said. “7-on-7s allow for skill kids to get used to the speed of the game, while going against other teams. It allows the opportunity for kids to perfect their craft, all while making mistakes, without those mistakes mattering on the scoreboard.
“It is a great opportunity for coaches to coach. That is the concept of 7-on-7. It’s called practice. It has now turned into parents believing that their athlete will be recruited, because of 7-on-7s. This is evident with all the club teams. Any high school coach that has coached at the FBS or FCS level will tell you that they cannot attend any of the 7s competitions, unless on their own campus, as well as they do not find kids to recruit based off of 7-on-7s.
“Yet parents are being told the opposite because certain ‘gurus’ sell it that way for their own reasons.”