The football season is still months away, but already footballs are filling the air as high school quarterbacks use the increasingly-popular passing leagues and tournaments to sharpen their skills during the summer.
Numerous 7-on-7 passing tournaments around the state draw dozens of teams, providing fun and high-energy competition among teams that field just a quarterback, center, and five receivers. The 30-minute games are generally played on a 50-yard field and each team entered is guaranteed five or six games.
So far this month, a couple of the state’s premier high school programs have begun making the 7-on-7 circuit, as Chaparral High School traveled from Scottsdale to Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff and Hamilton High School in Chandler make a longer trek, over to San Diego, CA.
Chaparral, behind its much-publicized senior quarterback Connor Brewer, took the title in the big-schools competition of the NAU tourney, which attracted 24 teams overall. It was the first time in three trips to the championship game that the Firebirds have brought home the title.
Chaparral is tuning up for a run at a third consecutive state title and the passing game will be integral to its success, as Brewer, who threw for 2,677 yards and 37 TDs as a junior, plays his final year before heading off to the University of Texas.
But perhaps a bigger story unfolded in the lower division, where Buckeye High School won the title – and ended four years of frustration!
The Hawks had been to the final game for the past four years, but came up empty-handed each time. But this year, they claimed the title by beating the defending 2A champion, Northwest Christian High. The win was especially sweet because Northwest had beaten Buckeye earlier in the tournament in an overtime contest.
Northwest recovered in the semi-finals, beating Mingus High School from Cottonwood.
Meanwhile, Hamilton was busy winning yet another passing tournament, this one in San Diego. The Huskies, behind senior quarterback Blake Kemp, rolled undefeated through the tourney hosted by San Diego State University.
Hamilton is used to playing the dominant role at these summer events, but last year they were stunned by Central High School in Phoenix, losing in the Surprise (Ariz) tournament after going undefeated in the summer league and winning several other passing tournaments.
But it looks like they’ve found their stride once again.
Kemp will finally get an opportunity to run the show for the nationally-ranked Huskies, following the graduation of Kyren Poe, who threw for just shy of 2,000 yards last season as Hamilton extended its winning streak to 40 games. Kemp saw less action last year, but still threw for 696 yards and seven touchdowns.
Cesar Chavez High School also made the journey to San Diego – and made the trip worthwhile. The Laveen school knocked off Poway High School from California, the top-seeded team in the event, before losing in the semi-finals to another California school, Bishop Amat.
The Champions, under fourth-year head coach Jim Rattay, just emerged from a probation imposed by the AIA and are looking forward to seeing what the 2011 squad will be able to do behind senior signal-caller Chandler Hovic, who completed 70 percent of his passes last year in a disappointing 4-7 season.
But for now, it’s all about using passing leagues and 7-on-7 tournaments to get ready for a new season.