7-on-7 lets coach 'see everything'

Patches of straw-colored grass mark an 80-yard tortoise-green practice field victimized by the recent 95-degree heat, a temperamental irrigation system and the pounding from dozens of high school football players getting in summer work.

Yard lines emblazoned into the turf by a powerful weed killer, instead of white paint or chalk, complete the rectangular grid. Spectators stand or sit in camping chairs around the playing surface.

These days, even seven-on-seven passing scrimmages draw fans, who can get their first glimpse of their favorite teams. This summer, it's the regular Wednesday evening routine for Concord High's Spiders.

The scrimmages have been a part of high school football preseason workouts for many years, but they have become more prevalent in recent years with Cabarrus County schools. The no-contact practices are for skill-position players only, but coaches are finding a greater use for these "football-lite" training sessions.

Starting with a June 23 scrimmage with Concord First Assembly, second-year Spiders coach Glen Padgett scheduled seven-on-sevens for four straight weeks. That takes his team's summer workout schedule up to the annual state athletic association's coaches clinics.

One week of team camp will follow, then it's time for the official start of practice Aug. 1. The first games of the 2010 season will be played Aug. 20.

"It's basically like a teacher teaching one-on-one," said Concord senior Elijah Bost. "The coach sees everything. You don't have an offensive line out here, so you can see what's going on. They can take you out and tell you what you do wrong so you can do what you're supposed to do."

The passing scrimmages also help prepare pass defenses.

Decked in baggy shorts and cutoff T-shirts, offenses are set up with a quarterback, a center, four receivers and a running back. Defenses play with three linebackers and four players in the secondary.

Ron Massey said the scrimmages started at least as long ago as his first head coaching job in 1987, long before he became head coach at Kannapolis Brown in 2000.

"Not having spring football here in North Carolina, a lot more people are taking advantage of it," he said. "The game has evolved. The spread offense has come onto the scene, so it helps a lot. If you're a strong running team, you can concentrate on defense a little more."

Brown was one of several Cabarrus teams at Mount Pleasant's camp July 9. Under coach Mike Johns, the Tigers have long been perhaps the area's most active team in seven-on-seven summer work.

Besides individual scrimmages, the Tigers will also attend a three-day camp at UNCPembroke this month. Catawba College in Salisbury holds a similar camp that is popular with high schools.

In his second year at Central Cabarrus, coach Chris Shinn said his team is participating in probably 50percent more seven-on-seven scrimmages this year than last year. He said it's a lot easier getting players out for some friendly competition than for the typical drills or weight-lifting sessions.

So that his non-skill-position players wouldn't feel ignored, Shinn sent his linemen to a comparable event July 10 at Wingate University called The Linemen Challenge. Players competed in events such as the man-sled drive, the 20-yard dash and the one-man tire flip.

How are you spending your summer vacation?