TURNER – Wesley Myers runs the first 10 yards of his route at about three-quarters speed, calls for the ball with his right hand, then looks over his shoulder and yells out to his quarterback.
Mason Giroux responds with a pump-fake, which freezes Myers’ defender just long enough for him to turn on the after-burners into the secondary. Giroux then lofts a throw into the end zone to Myers, who outjumps three defenders to haul it in.
Two months from now, such a play will bring the crowd to its feet. Early on a Sunday evening in July, though, it only elicits a few claps from the stands. That’s because this is just practice.
But starting Aug. 31, when the games are for real, some Central and Western Maine teams could have a leg up on the competition. Actually, more like an arm up.
Ten teams, including Edward Little, Lewiston, Leavitt, Jay, Lisbon, Oak Hill, Poland and Fryeburg Academy, met for some 7-on-7 football sessions in late June and early July. Schools in other parts of the state have organized and operated similar scrimmages, but this was the first put together by local programs.
“It’s been a great idea. The kids love it. Participation is excellent. And it’s just a lot of fun,” said Edward Little coach Darren Hartley.
The idea grew out of the Pine Tree Shootout, a one-day, 7-on-7 competition run by former Lewiston head coach and current Bates College assistant Skip Capone that brings teams from all over the state to Lewiston annually. Local coaches wanted their players to face more competition and get more reps in preparation for the upcoming season. Edward Little and Leavitt agreed to host the sessions, spread out over four dates, at their home fields.
Teams match up round-robin style for 15 plays on offense and 15 on defense. The offense is all passing. No running plays are allowed. The offense starts with the ball at the defense’s 35 yard line and picks up points based on how far down the field they complete passes. Touchdowns still count for six points.
Coaches use the sessions as an instructional and evaluation tool and to familiarize players with their passing playbook. For example, even though they know the defense isn’t going to bite on play-action, they still go through the motions anyway.
“We’re just trying to run our plays and get the footwork down and get the timing down,” Hartley said.
“It’s designed to get the ball in those short, medium and long zones,” said Leavitt coach Mike Hathaway. “For us, we do a lot of that anyway. The passing game is a fairly big part of our offense, so it’s a chance for us to work on all of the things that we’re going to be doing.”
Even teams who historically are more run-oriented get a lot out of the competition.
“This is going to help us out big-time, because last year we weren’t a passing team, but it looks like we’re on the point now,” said Myers, who will be replacing Fitzpatrick Trophy winner Jared Turcotte as Lewiston’s featured running back in the fall. “A lot of these plays help me when I’m in the backfield because last year I played slot (receiver) and this helps with the adjustment.”
Even though there is no tackling, defenses can still score points by forcing incompletions, sacks (if the ball isn’t thrown once the count reaches “1,004”), knocking down passes or intercepting them.
“It’s one-hand touch and there’s no pads, so there’s not much in the way of blocking and tackling,” Hathaway said. “But as far as covering and making plays on the ball, we get a lot of reps at that.”
Players have always been able to get reps during camps, clinics and workouts, but before the 7-on-7 sessions started, they didn’t get much time together on the field during the summer.
“It’s hard to get people on the field (in the summer) because they’re so caught up in other things, so this helps a lot,” said Leavitt QB Evan Barker. “You get to see kids that are on the borderline, whether they’re going to be ready to play or not. This just gives you a general idea for when you go into (preseason) camp.”
“This helps get the team chemistry going,” Giroux said. “Plus, when you get to double sessions, you’re not completely lost out there.”
Things will get a lot more serious when double sessions start in mid-August. The 7-on-7 sessions help lay the groundwork for that, and allow the players to face some different competition at the same time.
“It’s a chance for our kids to be out there with the Brunswick kids, the Lisbon kids or whoever,” Hathaway said. “It’s nice to get those kids on the field when it’s not ultra-competitive. It’s kind of relaxed and they have fun playing against each other.”