MORRIS – When high school football teams started playing 7-on-7 during the summer, it was looked at as a way for teams to keep their players in shape. Now, it has become an integral part of a team’s development. It used to be that not all teams participated in the drills, which involve running passing routes with no offensive linemen other than a center, against a defense with no linemen rushing the passer. Nowadays, teams had better do it, because everyone else is.
Morris completed its 7-on-7 season Tuesday night on the Morris Community High School field against Reed-Custer. During the summer passing season, Redskin quarterback Griffin Sobol threw an innumerable amount of passes, all with the hopes of improving on the 3-6 record Morris finished with last season.
“I think the summer has gone well,” Sobol said. “These 7-on-7s help a lot with reading the defenses and giving us repetiitons on running the plays. We have been to like seven or eight 7-on-7s, and we play a lot of games at each one. I have been able to get a look at a lot of different types of defenses that will be played against us, and being able to see all the routes we have our receivers running.
“We played a couple weeks ago against Bolingbrook,and they have like six Division I players on their defense alone. Playing against competition like that is only going to make us better when the season starts. We are really looking forward to that first week.”
The season officially starts Aug. 11, with the Redskins scheduled to visit Minooka in their first game on Aug. 29. Then, they play host to Metamora and Dundee-Crown before traveling to Sterlinh. Morris starts Northern Illinois Big 12 East play with a game against Yorkville at home before road contests against DeKalb and Kaneland. They finish conference play with a home game against Sycamore before finishing the regular season at home against LaSalle-Peru.
During that slate, the Redskins figure to see all kinds of formations on both offense and defense, and disparity of competition seen this summer will certainly come into play.
“It’s nice to play these 7-on-7s,” Morris coach Alan Thorson said. “We get to see a lot of spread offenses, which a lot of teams are going to, but tonight against Reed-Custer, we saw a team that runs a wing-type of offense, which we may see more of in our conference. It’s interesting to see what other coaches are trying to do with their offenses and how they try to match up against our offense. We can learn a lot.
“Another thing is that it gives our kids a lot of reps on both offense and defense. The more we are on the field, the better. We had a tough year last year, and these kids remember that and have really been working hard.”
The memory of last year’s final record is certainly on the players’ mind, but not something they dwell on. Rather, it has been a source of focus.
“I see a lot of difference from last summer to this summer,” said Jake Walker, who ran for more than 1,000 yards last season. “It’s not that we didn’t work hard last summer. It’s just that it’s got a different feel to it this summer. We all have a chip on our shoulder. We definitely want to improve and take that 3-6 and make it 9-0. To do that, we know we have to put the work in, and we have been.
“For us right now, it’s about the getting the repetitions in to know the plays and know the routes we are supposed to run.”
What doesn’t get put on display at a 7-on-7 is a team’s running game, and Walker figures to be a large part of that for the Redskins when the season starts. For Thorson, though, the summer is a chance to scope out some different aspects of the talented senior-to-be’s game.
“Jake is a special athlete,” Thorson said. “He is definitely a guy that is going to have the ball in his hands a lot for us this fall. These 7-on-7s are a chance for us as coaches to figure out different ways to do that. We are obviously going to get it to him a lot on handoffs, but this way we can find out if he’s better catching the ball in the flat or running deep down the field.
“It’s also been a chance for some other kids to shine. Guys like Tommy Ballentine, a very fast junior who has really had a good summer. He has shown us a lot. And a tight end like Brady Nicholson. He has all the tools. He’s big, he moves well. He can be a weapon for us. A lot of the things we will do offensively this fall will come from what we have seen this summer. These are fun for the kids, but they really give us coaches a lot to think about, too. When we put the kids all together, with the way the linemen have been working this summer and the way the backs and receivers have been working and improving, we could be tough to stop.”