FOOTBALL: To play or not to play? Coaches talk the prospect of 7-on-7 this summer

The slow return to normalcy in Kentucky high school sports continues this month.

On May 28, the KHSAA Board of Control Zoom meeting, in which the COVID-19 dead period was lifted and teams were allowed to begin meeting on June 1.

These guidelines state that all team activities must be strictly meetings of 10 people or less through June 14.

On June 15, sports considered “low-touch,” such as golf and cross-country, can resume practices of no more than 10 at a time. These sports can resume competition on June 29.

Sports considered “high touch,” like football, can hold workouts of similarly 10 or less participants on June 15, but cannot resume practices until June 29.

With these new guidelines in mind, the prospect of 7-on-7 scrimmages this summer still remains up in the air.

CENTRAL HARDIN. Head coach Tim Mattingly isn’t so sure 7-on-7 will be doable this summer. At the same time, this shouldn’t impact what he hopes to accomplish with the guys too much.

Mattingly said that the scrimmages can be helpful, but Central Hardin typically doesn’t have a large 7-on-7 schedule.

“We don’t do a lot, we do some. We normally host a tournament and we try to go to one tournament and maybe do some other night with a local team,” Mattingly said. “It’s not a huge part of our preparation, but it’s important and I’m sure it’s gonna be missed by a lot of teams. The way I look at it, everybody’s in the same boat.”

Since the prospect of 7-on-7’s this summer looks grim to him, Mattingly said it’s a level playing field for all football teams in the state. No one will be able to have that game simulation experience.

Since the Bruins are heading into the 2020 season with an overall lack of experience, that would be the biggest loss if the scrimmages can’t be held.

“Any type of game simulation like 7-on-7 would have been really valuable to us just from our inexperience standpoint,” Mattingly said. “We’ll just make the best of whatever the situation is and we’re just hoping that everything comes through fine with this coronavirus and there’ll actually get to be a season.”

While he feels larger 7-on-7 tournaments will be tough to pull off, Mattingly thought, if anything, there’s a chance of doing a scrimmage with one other team. The chance of that still feels unlikely to him nonetheless.

Even if there is no 7-on-7 among competing teams, Mattingly said there are still ways the team can try to simulate these game situation among the Bruins.

“We typically do a part of our practice, almost every day, some type of either offensive 7-on-7s or defensive 7-on-7s where we really focus in on either offense or defense,” Mattingly said. “That’s a normal part of our practice when we start, say July 15 through, even throughout the season. We’re actually game planning, preparing for specific opponents. We’ll go out and really try to simulate what they’re gonna do to us offensively or defensively, so we’ll still do that as part of our practice planning as long as that’s allowed.”

FORT KNOX. Based on what he heard during the KHSAA Board of Control meeting, Eagles head coach Wes Arnold doesn’t see 7-on-7’s as a likely option for his team this summer.

“It didn’t sound really promising. I know when I watched the Board of Control, Commissioner (Julian) Tackett said that if you think we’re having 7-on-7, I think he said you’re crazy or something like that,” Arnold said. “I’m not really optimistic about that part, but I would gladly trade not having 7-on-7 for getting to play real football games, so that’s kind of where I’m at about it.”

Arnold said his players typically do enjoy the experience. Fort Knox is also bringing a new quarterback into the starting role with sophomore Jayden Thorpe, so it would have been nice to give him some experience.

At the same time, the nature of the base means the team is used to having to make changes on the fly.

“We don’t typically spend a ton of time with 7-on-7, just because we don’t really get the whole team until after the 7-on-7 period because kids are moving in so much,” Arnold said. “Last year, we did participate in a couple and the kids really enjoyed it and it was good, especially for our defense, to start working on some things and getting our kids some confidence. I think our kids just like getting out and playing.”

Since the Eagles are not a pass-heavy team, the loss of the scrimmages would not be detrimental. Arnold did say they could be used as a learning experience to simulate competition.

Similarly, competing well against local schools last summer helped instill more confidence in his players last year.

Fort Knox will still look to try do 7-on-7 scrimmages among the team this summer if possible.

“We do 7-on-7 at practice a lot just to work on our passing game. We would still do stuff against ourselves. The problem when you’re at a 1-A school is your best 11 tend to be playing both ways,” Arnold said. “If we do 7-on-7 against ourselves, the guys we go against usually aren’t quite as competitive as our varsity group is, so it’s hard to replicate that competitiveness, but we’d still find ways to get it done within ourselves if you have to.”

MEADE COUNTY. Green Wave head coach Larry Mofield would like to have 7-on-7 scrimmages this summer if possible. Unless things continue to change and guidelines are loosened further, he isn’t sure this will be a possibility.

“Right now, you really can’t even prepare for 7-on-7. It’s tough because you’ve got groups of 10 or less in there. You can’t even have a defense actually out there against your offense,” Mofield said. “I guess if you grouped them, you could have, to a certain extent, the kids you wanted in some groups, but just the preparation for it is gonna be tough.”

While the focus of 7-on-7’s is often offense and getting the chance to throw the ball, Mofield said in previous years, his defenses have benefited from scrimmages as well. Not having any game simulations could be a blow to Meade County’s preparation, especially among the younger players.

Mofield recognized all teams are in this wait-and-see mode to find out if 7-on-7s will be a possibility. At the same time, he understands the reason behind the precaution.

“I think that’s the importance of selling our kids on how important it is to do the right things during this period of time, because I’ve read where there’s been a couple of college football players, I think, with (COVID-19),” Mofield said. “All it takes is if you get a kid that’s got it, especially at the high school level, I think you could end up shutting things down before you ever really get started, so I think it’s important to make sure we’re doing everything correctly.”

The 7-on-7s have allowed Green Wave players to go up against quality opponents in previous years. This helps show, to an extent, what kind of situations they could run into on Friday nights.

Mofield said not having that experience would be a big loss.

“You can’t really simulate that in practice. You can’t simulate the athletes that we’re gonna go against on Friday night,” Mofield said. “We don’t have the type of players to simulate the look that they’re gonna give us, so that hurts. That hurts us.”

If there is no 7-on-7 games this summer, Mofield said Meade County will likely work on what it needs to work on otherwise.

“Whatever you can’t get done, we’ll just use that to make it refined and focus on what we’re doing anyway,” Mofield said. “Not all is lost if you don’t do 7-on-7.”

LARUE COUNTY. It’s been a while since the Hawks took part in a 7-on-7 tournament. Head coach Josh Jaggers estimated it’s been three to four years, to be more exact.

“We usually just get together with Central Hardin, Hart, Campbellsville during the weeks,” Jaggers said. “No more than three or four times a July.”

Therefore, the potential loss of 7-on-7’s in Kentucky this summer isn’t as detrimental for LaRue County as it could be for other programs.

“Personally, I think it’s overrated, no longer than we are allowed to have it as is,” Jaggers said. “As the season goes along, I don’t think it matters one bit to be honest. I like it from a defensive aspect more than anything.”

The bigger loss for Jaggers and the Hawks has been the loss of weight room sessions, as well as the track season. He explained these two areas play a vital role in helping the team become bigger, faster and stronger.

“7 vs. 7 has a purpose, but as far as having any impact on the season for no longer than we get to do it as is? Not that big of a deal,” Jaggers said.

Matt Tyson can be reached at 270-505-1754 or mtyson@thenewsenterprise.com.

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