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H.S. football this fall: Is 7-on-7 the answer?

WCAX Sports looks at 7-on-7 football and why it might be the best way to play a high school football season this fall in Vermont.
Published: Aug. 11, 2020 at 12:10 PM EDT|Updated: Aug. 12, 2020 at 1:51 PM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - On Friday, Governor Phil Scott announced that not only will there be a high school fall sports season, but all sports offered in the fall season will be played, and that includes football.

However, of all the sports offered by the Vermont Principals’ Association in the fall season, football is the only one that falls under the ‘high impact’ category established earlier this summer by the state. Those sports currently are only allowed to conduct no or low contact physical conditioning and skill building drills, and not play games.

If that condition remains in place when the state released further guidance for fall sports later this week, but, as the Governor stated, high school football will be offered this fall, what will the game look like on the field?

The answer is likely 7-on-7. 7-on-7 football is popular for both training purposes and competition throughout the country. It's essentially a passing game, with no offensive or defensive lineman outside a center to snap the ball, and is also played without blocking or tackling.

St. Johnsbury head coach Rich Alercio is one of the biggest proponents of 7-on-7 football in Vermont. St. J has held a summer 7-on-7 tournament the past few years that has brought in teams from other schools in the state, and the Hilltoppers have also traveled to 7-on-7 tournaments in other parts of the Northeast.

Given the likely restrictions on close contact and other health and safety challenges that could be in place this fall, Alercio feels 7-on-7 would be the ideal way to get high school football on the field this season.

"The center snaps the ball to the quarterback, the quarterback as two seconds to go through their reads. There's no running and you just pass the ball.", says Alercio. "There's almost no situation where there's going to be a lot of people together and because seven on seven is usually played with one hand touch, the closest somebody gets to somebody else is an arms length and it happens and then they go in different directions. So you can play the game and socially distance."

A potential shift to 7-on-7 this fall would mean no offensive or defensive lineman playing their traditional rolls in the game, but that doesn't mean they would necessarily be put on the sideline. Alercio says they are several options to make sure everyone remains involved.

"Most of the week of practice they would still be working on their offense of an defense of line skills but on the weekends, Friday nights and Saturday afternoons, they play inside linebacker, they play free safety, they play tight and they play fullback. You could play a quarter of bigs versus bigs, just go against each other."

St. Johnsbury has been able to use those passing concepts honed in 7-on-7 to great success, reaching the Division One championship game in three of the past four years, and winning the D-1 title in 2017, the school's first in over two decades.

Other schools, like Burr and Burton and Fair Haven, have ridden high octane passing games to championships and championship game appearances.

A possible shift to 7-on-7 this fall may be a way to ensure there is a high school football season, but Alercio hopes that if more school's get a taste of 7-on-7, it will ultimately help that version of football grow in the state, and open more doors for the sport as a whole to grow.

“It may be something that allows smaller schools, the Division Four schools, to start or restart football.”, says Alercio. “And one of the things that I think maybe is the most important, it could be the future of how girls play football. You can play 7-on-7. They’re now giving Division I scholarships to girls flag football. I think it could be, when you talk about taking a bad situation and making it good, it could be very good particularly for Vermont football.”

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