On the edge of downtown Phoenix, Brophy Prep was hosting a high school 7-on-7 passing tournament last weekend, put together by the AIA in partnership with the folks at the Fiesta Bowl. It was the first of what is expected to be an annual event.
A 45-minute drive to the west side of the Valley, another 7-on-7 tournament was taking place in Surprise, where it is part of a passing league and has been an annual event for several years already. Together, they drew almost four dozen teams.
Passing tournaments are all the rage these days.
Central High School in Phoenix won the Surprise tournament this year, beating Hamilton HS in the championship game, 21-15. It was the first time in four years that Hamilton failed to take home the trophy. The Huskies have been dominant in the 7-on-7 format, going undefeated in league play all summer and winning several out-of-town tournaments.
Central, with quarterback Andrew Laboto, is a football program that had bottomed out for years before Todd Williamson took over the program four years ago. Last season the Bobcats went 7-4 and won the Metro Region title.
Meanwhile, over at the new Brophy Sports Complex on Central Avenue, the host team wasn’t able to win their inaugural event. Brophy was beaten in the championship game by Marcos de Niza HS in Tempe, after Marcos went through the tournament undefeated.
There were 30 teams competing in Surprise and another 16 teams at Brophy.
Each team plays with a quarterback, center, and five receivers on offense. They have either seven or eight on defense. A game runs 30 minutes and is played on a 50-yard field, with a short rest period between games. Teams are usually guaranteed five or six games.
Unlike full-team football, there is no pass rush, no linemen, and no ground game. Everything is in the air.
Think Arena Football… lots of passing on a short field, and teams need to score on just about every possession in order to win.
The competitive, high-energy offensive game is great for fans. The AIA plans to capitalize on the popularity by expanding the annual event to include a tournament in Tucson and another in Flagstaff.
From the coaches’ and players’ perspective, the passing leagues and tournaments help them get ready for the next season. It helps the quarterbacks and their receivers develop their timing in a non-threatening, non-contact format. On the other side of the ball, it enables the coaches to begin working on their defensive systems against the pass, and they’re able to simulate situations that would be used in a two-minute drill.
The downside, of course, is that a coach risks an injury before he can get the kids into pre-season workouts, even though ball carriers only have to be touched by the defender to be considered down. Non-contact doesn’t totally eliminate the danger of injury that comes with twisting, cutting, jumping, etc.
But most coaches seem to be OK with this kind of competition, figuring the benefits outweigh the minimal risk.
There is one advantage to the Fiesta Bowl tournament. The full expenses are being picked up by the sponsor.
In these economic times, that’s music to the ears of high school coaches.