It's always football season for 7-on-7
A Leavitt (Turner, Maine) High School defensive back reaches around to break up a pass to a Souhegan High School of Amherst receiver during the Northeast 7-on-7 tournament's East Regional tournament in Exeter on Saturday. (JAY REITER/Union Leader)
That was evident at Exeter High School on Saturday, when 32 teams from four states gathered for the Northeast 7-on-7 Tournament's North Regional.
Each team played a minimum of three 25-minute games, and 24 of the 32 teams advanced to a single-elimination playoff. The games were played on a 40-yard field with a 10-yard end zone, and high school officials worked each contest.
Dover coach Ken Osbon is among those pleased with the growth of 7-on-7 events.
“Kids don't always throw the ball on their own, and this is an opportunity for them to throw the ball with their teammates,” Osbon said. “It gives the kids a chance to get our offense under their belt a little bit. When a kid makes a mistake you also get a chance to correct it immediately on the field, which is something you can't do in game situations. When we come to camp a lot of this stuff will carry over.
“These events are becoming more and more popular up here, but they've been popular down South for a long time. If other teams are going to do it you have to match up and compete or you're going to be left behind.”
Dover was one of 10 New Hampshire high school teams at Saturday's event, joining Concord, Exeter, Manchester West, Milford, Portsmouth, Souhegan of Amherst, St. Thomas of Dover, Windham and Winnacunnet of Hampton.
The field included 17 teams from Massachusetts, four from Maine and one from Vermont.
The Northeast 7-on-7 Tournament features two other 32-team events that will be held in Massachusetts later this month. The finalist at each location will be part of an eight-team field that will compete for the New England championship at Gillette Stadium on July 27.
Methuen, Mass. won Saturday's tournament by beating the Pingree School of South Hamilton, Mass., 26-25. Methuen scored a touchdown on the game's final play.
“It allows the kids to build confidence and come together as a team,” Methuen coach Tom Tone said. “I think that's what they get out of it more than anything else.”
Essex, Vt. and Salem, Mass. were the other teams that reached the semifinals. Winnacunnet was the only New Hampshire team that advanced as far as the quarterfinals.
“We go to a lot of 7 on 7s and some we like more than others,” said Buckingham Browne and Nichols (Cambridge, Mass.) tight end Brendan O'Neil, who has accepted a scholarship from Wake Forest. “A big tournament like this is awesome, because you get to test yourself against good competition.
“Our offense is a mix of 7-on-7 plays and our regular plays we'll run this season. We have a sophomore quarterback and he has to get his timing down. We're putting in a whole new defense. We've already had a couple of meltdowns. It's better to have those meltdowns — those breakdowns in coverage — here, than during the season.”
Manchester West was among the teams in attendance Saturday that also competed in last weekend's Saint Anselm Shootout, a similar 7-on-7 tournament held at Saint Anselm College.
West coach Jim Lauzon said 7-on-7 events weren't prevalent — at least not in New Hampshire — when he graduated from West in 2007. He said many people don't realize 7-on-7 football is as much about defense as it is about improving the passing game.
“We'll probably face five spread teams this year, so we need it,” he said. “We tell them to enjoy it, but at the same time these are the pass plays we're going to have, so we're trying to get better.
“I brought the 20 guys who have been working the hardest. They'll be our core group of guys. Everyone else will have to rally around them this season.”
Concord coach Eric Brown said Saturday's tournament gave his team a head start in its preparation for the 2012 season.
“We are far ahead of anywhere we've ever been on this date in the past,” Brown said. “We prepared for this because we didn't want to be embarrassed. We wanted to represent our school. I'm so pleased we had the opportunity to come.”
Players and coaches from each of the 32 teams received merchandise from Under Armour, the event's primary sponsor.
“I think the major draw for the tournament is the gear for the kids, as well as the competition,” tournament director Steve Dembowsksi said. “Exeter High School was an outstanding venue for this event and there were teams from four different states, so that will help this grow in New England. If Under Armour continues to support us we'll be back here next year, and this tournament is going to get bigger and better.”
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Roger Brown may be reached at email@example.com.
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