High school passing tournaments signal start of summer

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                </div>The high schools are out for the summer -and football is back in. All across the state of Arizona, the growing popularity of 7-on-7 passing tournaments and leagues has spawned […]<!-- AddThis Sharing Buttons below -->
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The high schools are out for the summer -and football is back in.

All across the state of Arizona, the growing popularity of 7-on-7 passing tournaments and leagues has spawned events that provide many opportunities during the early summer months for coaches to begin preparing for the next season.  They’re able to begin working on defensive systems they will use against the pass, and can simulate situations that would be used in a two-minute drill.

The quarterbacks, on the other hand, can use the passing tournaments to help develop timing with their receivers in a non-threatening, non-contact format.

There is no blocking in 7-on-7 and no tackling, just hand touch.  Players do not wear helmets or pads and the games are played on half a normal field, generally 45 or 50 yards long.  Games last no more than half an hour, generally with 12- or 15-minute halves.

Each team usually has a quarterback, center, and five receivers on offense, while the defense generally consists of seven or eight players.

The kickers are left out of theses games, since there is no punting and no extra-point attempts.  If a team wants to tack on an extra point after a touchdown, it’s up to the QB to get it through the air.

There is a downside, and that’s the potential for injury, even though contact is almost non-existent.  Non-contact doesn’t totally eliminate the danger of injury that comes with twisting, cutting, jumping, etc.  But coaches have obviously decided the benefits to their programs outweigh the minimal risk.

Hamilton High School, which generally makes extensive use of the passing tournaments, has already won two of the opening tourneys.

The Huskies started by winning the Mountain View Tournament in Mesa, rolling through the field of 16-teams to beat Basha High School in the finals.  The next week, they traveled to Tucson to take part in the Rich Rodriguez Camp and won the passing tournament part of the camp by beating Tucson’s own Salpointe Catholic, 13-12, in a closely-contested game that was tied at half and not decided until the Huskies scored their second TD with just 30 seconds left in the game.

Summer passing competition certainly doesn’t account for all of Hamilton’s success over the years, but it undoubtedly has helped the Chandler football power in its drive to five state championships in the past seven years, including last season’s Division I title.

And this year, it might be especially helpful since Hamilton graduated its starting quarterback, A.J. Thigpen.  The passing tournaments should help sort out the applicants for the 2013 job.

The Tucson event, hosted by the University of Arizona second-year head coach Rodriguez, drew 32 teams from all around the state and across the border into California.  Both of the other Division I colleges, Arizona State in Tempe and Northern Arizona up in Flagstaff, also host passing tournaments.

In addition, major passing competitions are hosted now by the Arizona Football Coaches Association and the Arizona Interscholastic Association, the state’s governing body, which decided a couple of years back to partner with the Fiesta Bowl to create a major event that takes place at the end of this month.  Some of the schools also make an annual trek to the West Coast to play in passing tournaments at UCLA or San Diego State, or both.

The concept continues to grow, and with it a proliferation of passing tournaments and passing leagues.  Which is fine, except maybe for the families who would prefer instead to take a summer vacation – away from the commitment to high school sports.  Organized passing competition and “Big Man Challenges” for defensive and offensive linemen now bridge the gap between spring practice and pre-season camp in August.

And that’s why high school football draws closer to becoming a year ’round activity – like it or not.