Matt Poarch gathered 26 non-linemen on the Wilson football team earlier this week and asked them to raise a hand if Thursday’s 7-on-7 event at Florence High School would be their first.
Eighteen hands went up.
That’s indicative of the inexperience that will challenge the Warriors in 2018 and was a primary concern even before Scott Brown resigned as head coach Tuesday night.
Several local high school football teams competed in 7-on-7 scrimmages this week, and while coaches are often quick to point out it’s not truly football, they also acknowledge there are several ways in which those scrimmages can improve a team.
Poarch, Wilson’s defensive coordinator, is serving as a co-interim head coach along with offensive coordinator Jeremy Jeffreys. Roster depth and experience are primary issues for Wilson.
“Real proud of the way they competed. I don’t feel like anybody backed up. I don’t feel like anybody gave up or ever gave in,” Poarch said after his team finished its work Thursday. “So other than just fatigue, I feel like the execution was pretty well for this time of year.”
The invited teams at Florence were guaranteed several games in the morning, and then after lunch there was a knockout round. Deshler beat Giles County (Tenn.) in the final to win the tournament.
With a backpack on his shoulders and a laminated sheet dangling from his waist, Deshler coach Bo Culver looked ready to study and learn. But part of the appeal of 7-on-7 scrimmages is for players to do that, too.
Quarterback Channing Marmann and his receivers completed several long touchdown passes and Deshler’s defense capped the final scrimmage with an interception. But Culver was also pleased about some more abstract concepts, like how players responded to challenges, tough coaching and — for a couple — a brief punishment.
“I thought this was probably our (most complete) day,” Culver said. “If you looked at us early you’d have seen me (making a couple guys do up-downs) because they’re not holding the standard that we set. And so we talked about that.
“ … So we pay the price on the sideline, and our guys respond, come back and play well.”
Colbert Heights coach Taylor Leathers knew his team didn’t have as many veteran contributors as it did last year, so the benefit of a 7-on-7 is obvious. Largely untested players can learn more about how they stack up, and Leathers can evaluate how they do.
“Obviously we can’t run the football (in a 7-on-7), which is what we do predominantly, but it helps breathe that competitive spirit and that’s why we brought these guys over here,” Leathers said. “We had a lot of freshmen on the field today that played throughout the day, and it gives those guys a first opportunity to compete against another school at the varsity level.”
Coach Will Hester, who came to Florence at the start of the year, got a chance to see his team in a competitive setting and was pleased with how hard the Falcons played in mid-90s heat.
Like Deshler, Florence split its team into two squads to get more players involved. Gardner Flippo and Dee Beckwith were the primary Florence quarterbacks, and Hester said it’s likely the team still puts in a package for whichever one is not named the starter.
Both Florence teams made the semifinals, falling to Deshler and Giles County.
“It was a great day of practice,” Hester said. “Very pleased and happy with the coaches that brought their teams over today for us all to get some good work, and hopefully they’ll say the same thing. It was a good day of practice for everybody.”
Coach Darrell Higgins was excited to see the Panthers win four pool play games early in Thursday’s event. They lost an elimination scrimmage to Giles County.
Higgins said it was a good chance for the defense to work on its communication and see different passing routes, which he said should help against region opponents that can pass like Hackleburg and Waterloo. And the offense got a chance to work on its own timing and ended up making several plays for big gains.
“We got to play a lot of games and see a lot of things,” Higgins said. “We subbed a lot and let everybody play to get experience. Our guys, they competed well.”
After the 7 on 7, Higgins took the team to a coach’s house to let the players play in the pool — a nice reward for some good work on a hot day.
“I thought it was a really good day,” he said.
The TimesDaily also visited Lexington on Tuesday for a 7-on-7 featuring Lexington, Lauderdale County and Central. There was no tournament and each team played four short games — two against each other school.
Coach Jason Lard decided to make the 7-on-7 free for the other teams to give everyone a good chance to get better. Despite challenges including a couple of unfilled coaching positions, Lard thinks Lexington has had a good summer.
He noted there’s no substitute for game experience but the 7-on-7 can simulate it for young players who have never faced varsity players from another school. A couple got “caught up in the moment” Tuesday and made a potentially costly mistake like blowing a coverage.
“It’s really good it happens now and not on a Friday night,” he said. “They kind of learn what kind of focus it takes to play at this level.”
Central just missed the 2017 playoffs but figures to be in the mix for a playoff spot out of Class 4A Region 8. Coach Heath Wood’s staff filmed the Wildcats’ scrimmages to provide some teaching moments.
Junior Summerhill and Dalton Hanback are obvious assets as running backs, so the 7-on-7 allowed the Wildcats to test themselves in other aspects of the game.
“We’ve seen some stuff definitely we’ve got to work on on both sides of the ball,” Wood said. “Now we did some good things, but there’s probably as much to work on as there was that was good. So that’s the good thing, too, rather than waiting until that first game to see what all you need to work on.”
The Tigers are one of the more run-heavy offenses in northwest Alabama and thus had not competed in a 7-on-7 — where every play is a pass — in “a long time,” according to coach Jeff Mason.
But he said it exposed some issues he knew were present defensively and will help the team address those in the days ahead.
Offensively, the Tigers got a chance to get more comfortable with a passing game they don’t use too much but will of course need here and there.
“It’s really nothing negative that comes from this. Everything we did today, we’ll learn,” Mason said Tuesday. “You ain’t got your pads on, you ain’t hitting. We know when we add that factor to it we feel like that we get a little better then than we were.”