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7-on-7 camps give football teams headstart

Billy Bahl won’t make his first varsity start at quarterback until this fall.

But when the Marian Central junior takes over a Hurricanes offense run for the past two years by Chris Streveler, he won’t be completely empty-handed when it comes to handling big-game pressure.

Granted, helping lead the Hurricanes to a second-place finish at Notre Dame’s 7-on-7 camp last month doesn’t equate to real-world high school football experience. But for Bahl, who traveled with Marian Central’s 7-on-7 team last year as a sophomore, the experience of being able to see things develop without the pressure of a pass rush should pay off once the game goes to full-speed next month.

“Seven-on-7 makes it a lot easier for me to make my reads and make sure my throws are where they’re supposed to be,” Bahl said. “I think once we really get this rolling, it will make it easier when there is pressure coming and when I’ve got to make the plays I need to.

“I’ll be ready.”

Under IHSA rules, coaches can use as many of their allotted 25 contact days for 7-on-7 workouts as they see fit. Teams can begin with 7-on-7 camps as early as June 3 and continue through Aug. 4 before a mandated no-contact period begins, running through the first day of practice Aug. 14.

For schools such as Marian Central, which lost in the championship game at Notre Dame of what began as a 70-team field representing 10 states, the chance to get a glance at elite competition can pay off. Especially when it comes to providing game simulations for young players like Bahl.

Without having to deal with the pressure of rushing defensive linemen, young quarterbacks are able to work on timing with their receivers and run through read progressions.

Although adjustments will have to be made once the scenarios return to 11-on-11, seeing the field with fewer players offers a different perspective.

“It’s a confidence thing,” Hurricanes coach Ed Brucker said. “Does (succeeding in 7-on-7 drills) mean anything? No. You don’t win any championships in the summer, but it sure does build confidence. They see things and then when it happens to them in the regular season, they’re not so surprised.”

Huntley coach John Hart sees some benefits from the month he schedules his team in 7-on-7 seven camps and tournaments. The Red Raiders were the only local school to participate in last month’s Red Grange Classic at Wheaton Warrenville South, which brings together some of greater Chicago’s top high school football talent.

The Red Raiders went 3-4 and lost in the first round of the playoffs, 24-15, to Wheaton Warrenville South.

Reigning 6A state runner-up Cary-Grove was invited but declined, coach Brad Seaburg said, because getting involved in competitive 7-on-7 environments won’t benefit the Trojans like it could other teams.

The Trojans take part in three 7-on-7 events each offseason. They limit those because the environment eliminates linemen on both sides of the ball. The offense faces a defensive scheme designed to stop the pass – rather than the run-heavy style of play the Trojans rely on – making 7-on-7 more of a detriment to Seaburg’s preparations.

“It gives our players more of a warped version of what they’re going to see,” said Seaburg, who uses C-G’s summer program as a way of introducing players to his program’s way of doing things. “So we just don’t want to get wrapped up playing competitive 7-on-7.”

The annual Grange tournament sends its champion – including this year’s winner, Montini – to the 7-on-7 national championships. But for Huntley, which will jump to Class 8A, getting an early look at some of the region’s top teams provides a bit of a crash course in what the Red Raiders could see this fall.

“The real positive part is you’re getting kids to compete,” Hart said. “We always tell our kids, ‘I couldn’t care less about the score, but how did you compete?’”

During the two-day Grange event, Hart was encouraged by how his team’s new quarterback – senior Blake Jacobs – handled different competitive situations, giving Jacobs’ teammates a glimpse of what Huntley’s offense could look like this fall.

Yet, there are drawbacks. Because there’s no pass rush, Hart says plays in 7-on-7 drills take too long to be executed. Quarterbacks aren’t forced to make decisions in real-time, leaving them to perfect their play-making later once 11 defensive players on the field.

Because of the personnel that is often on the field during 7-on-7 camps, two free safeties can complicate the way quarterbacks see the field, again taking some of the reality of the situation out of the equation.

When the Red Raiders returned to team drills Monday, Hart could see the experience gained by Jacobs, who was more poised than he was before taking part in 7-on-7 drills and who was more decisive as opposed to being hesitant like he once was.

For Jacobs quarterback Bret Mooney, who participated in three of the Golden Eagles’ four 7-on-7 camps, getting the chance to run through plays – and against other teams – provides a competitive environment that can’t always been simulated in a normal practice setting.

“The bullets aren’t flying,” Mooney said. “But it’s competition, you get some nerves out with the plays and what plays work and what don’t. You see what route combinations work against different defenses and the more [repetitions] you get, the better you’re going to be.”

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