Football players pine for usual 7-on-7 tournaments

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Saturday, July 25, 2020 | 5:15 PM


Brett Birch is a regular on the 7-on-7 football travel circuit.

The incoming junior wide receiver at Jeannette plays for 412 Elite out of Pittsburgh, an independent organization that went to tournaments in Michigan and Delaware before its schedule was shut down over coronavirus concerns.

Still, “I feel like I haven’t missed a beat,” Birch said.

But many others have when it comes to 7-on-7 workouts, which noticeably are missing this summer.

Traditionally by this time in July, teams have played a handful of the passing scrimmages.

But high school teams in the WPIAL and around the state have not been able to go against other teams in the usual fashion because of safety and methodical return-to-play guidelines brought forth by the state and implemented by school districts.

The PIAA plans to move forward with a season — for now — but social distancing is keeping the passing tournaments on the shelf, much to the chagrin of some players.

“It helps me a lot with reading coverages and knowing how to run routes, depending on the coverage I see,” said Birch, who already parlayed some 7-on-7 exposure into a scholarship offer from Central Michigan. “I wish we could’ve had some (7-on-7s) as a team to build our chemistry.”

While many coaches believe in the merits of the noncontact, pass-and-catch workouts, others are on the fence. Some see the scrimmages as filler in the summer and others see little value as a lead-up to training camp.

Burrell coach Shawn Liotta values the workouts and looks at them with greater scope.

“Obviously any team that likes to throw the ball around benefits from being able to get out on the field and fine-tune their passing game against a variety of defensive coverages,” Liotta said. “Some coaches have differing opinions on 7-on-7 and how it applies to real football, but for what we do offensively in terms of running multiple adjusting pass concepts that require our quarterback and wide receiver to be on the same page, these workouts are extremely helpful.”

Liotta said Burrell had planned to hit the road for passing tournaments at Pitt, Penn State, West Virginia, Youngstown State, Washington & Jefferson and the Westmoreland County Coaches Association event.

The WCCA canceled its annual event at Latrobe as a precaution.

“My first year at Burrell we went out and competed at the Pro Football Hall of Fame with powerhouses Glenville (Ohio) and Cass Tech (Detroit). I love playing against elite programs in that environment.”

Woodland Hills coach Tim Bostard said he does not miss the 7-on-7 part of the summer.

“You would like to get the reps,” he said. “But now, it’s just about doing what you can with your team. When we went green, we were one of the first ones to start (workouts) so we feel like we’re a week ahead of everyone else.”

Liotta revels in “literally thousands of reps” each summer.

“Traveling to these events allowed our kids to compete with some of the best athletes in the nation as opposed to just competing with schools in our area or conference,” he said. “The ability to see our kids compete offensively and defensively in these highly competitive situations will be missed.”

Norwin is looking at a quarterback competition heading into camp with senior Nick Fleming and junior Luke Levendosky, so 7-on-7 workouts could have given coach Dave Brozeski a better look at his passers in a competitive setting, against players who aren’t from Norwin.

“You’re looking to evaluate your quarterback, wide receivers and defensive backs,” Brozeski said. “It’s one of those things that can maybe take away focus from what you’re trying to do. If you do too many 7-on-7s, you’re not focusing as much on the other things you need to do for the season. I see both sides of it. There are positives and negatives.”

Dave Keefer looks at the 7-on-7s from more of a defensive perspective.

“What really helps you is getting into your defensive formations,” said Keefer, the coach at Greensburg Salem. “Then when you start camp, you have some things in, and you go into heat (acclimatization) week and you refine some things and have clarity. Now, you’re kind of reinventing the way you’re doing some things.”

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at bbeckner@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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