At BYU's recent passing tournament, Alta quarterback Ammon Olsen took a snap from a center who was kneeling and facing him, dropped back and delivered a bullet to quick-slant running receiver Parker Webster in a game against Mountain View, Ariz.
It looked easy for Olsen. There was no pass rush to worry about, no big offensive linemen to try and see over, and no helmet or shoulder pads weighing him down.
Welcome to 7-on-7 football.
Just about every high school football team in the state participates in at least one 7-on-7 passing tournament during the summer. Despite the fact that the games bear no resemblance to real football games, they remain popular with the guys in charge of running the state's 94 prep football programs.
The 7-on-7 tournaments give quarterbacks the chance to work on their reads, and receivers the opportunity to improve their route-running and coverage-reading abilities. Linebackers and secondary players are given the chance to familiarize themselves with their team's defensive schemes and compete against unfamiliar offensive players.
There are detractors from 7-on-7 who say the games are pointless because they are completely different from regular 11-on-11 football. They say that the tournaments at Weber State, Utah, BYU and Southern Utah are merely money-making endeavors for the schools, so they refuse to participate in them.
Fun and games
Make no mistake. The 7-on-7 passing tournaments aren't as fun as real football games for the state's high school players and coaches.
But they are a blast for the players and coaches who participate in them. Despite games being played in stifling summer heat, they are spirited and competitive. Teams usually play a guaranteed number of games in pool play, then move on to a tournament.
In 7-on-7 football, there are no linemen, and players don't wear pads. Offensive players aren't tackled. To be considered down, they simply have to be touched by an opposing player. Teams receive points for touchdowns on offense and for recording turnovers on defense.
"At this time, it's all we can do," said Alta coach Les Hamilton, whose team won the Ute Shoot on June 7. "They can have some fun. Defensively, we can get in our pass coverages. Offensively, to get the timing down is pretty big. You don't want your kids getting too up or down on 7-on-7. I want my kids to compete and have fun."
The 7-on-7 tournaments can be team-building experiences. Since at least the early '90s, when Snow College held an annual passing tournament, football programs have had 7-on-7 competitions marked on their summer calendars. One of the reasons for that is players are likely to bond while competing against other teams.
What's the value
With minimal contact among skill players, no brutal play in the trenches, and fewer than 11 players on the field, Mountain Crest quarterback Alex Kuresa said 7-on-7 is nothing like real football. He said it's like a completely different sport.
So why do they bother?
Plenty of reasons, coaches say, and one of them isn't just to fill time until they can officially start practicing later this summer.
"I think the value is our guys are starting to see routes against our coverage defensively," said Bear River coach Chris Wise. "(Offensively) they're starting to see routes versus coverages. They get the repetitions of routes being run. They start to figure out little nuance things like getting off the line."
Wootton likes them because he starts to get an idea which players are going to lay it on the line in the fourth quarter when games matter in the fall.
"They play so much (in tournaments) they get tired, they get fatigued, and you can kind of find out who your champions are," Wootton said. "When the sun is hot, all these teams are playing, and you'll see who's going to keep competing."
The players that seem to benefit the most from 7-on-7 are the quarterbacks. Olsen ripped through the competition in the Ute Shoot. He later found some things he needed to work on while throwing two interceptions in Alta's elimination loss to Arizona's Mountain View at BYU's passing tournament.
"It's good for your reads," said Copper Hills quarterback Josh Soter. "It helps me to see my reads quicker and find open guys quicker."
For Kuresa, who broke into Mountain Crest's starting lineup as a freshman last season, 7-on-7 is valuable just for the experience of continuing to play with older and more seasoned players.
Not the real deal either
The results of the 7-on-7 passing tournaments are hardly an indicator of which teams will dominate when real football games are played in the fall. Woods Cross won Weber State's passing tournament in 2006 before going 1-8 in the fall. Spanish Fork won the same tourney in 2007 before finishing 6-6 last year.
It doesn't take a football expert to figure out why.
"If you can't pass-block, it doesn't matter," Wootton said. "In 7-on-7 you're sending five receivers out on every play. We do run that in game situations, but you better read it right, and you better get at least enough pass protection so the quarterback can get it to the hot receiver."
Wise said the play in 7-on-7 does somewhat translate to regular football, but it's like stepping up from high school to college football.
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