Midd Hopes “Swinney Ball” Pays Dividends

Tigers borrow drill from another set of Tigers to prepare for new format
Published: Aug. 20, 2020 at 11:18 PM EDT
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MIDDLEBURY, Vt. (WCAX) - The decision that there will be high school football in Vermont this Fall was certainly a popular one among the Middlebury Tigers.

“Think everyone here is just really excited to be able to come out and play some football,” said senior captain Gabriel Dunn.

“Middlebury’s such a big football community,” added fellow senior captain Bode Rubright. “There’s so much support throughout the entire town, towns around us too. It’s just so much fun to go out there and step on that field.”

But rather than full 11-on-11 tackle, the high schools will be playing a 7-on-7 format, a pass-only game where running the ball is not allowed. That’s a big adjustment for one of the most run-heavy offenses in the state.

“The great Hubie Wagner, who started the offense here at Middlebury High School said, ‘There’s only three things that can happen when you pass the ball and two of them are bad,’” said assistant coach John Nuceder.

“Last year, we did incorporate the passing a little bit more which was definitely something newer,” Dunn said. “It was a big step forward and I think we can continue that momentum and just figure out how we’re gonna play this season.”

Middlebury is historically one of the best high school football programs in the state of Vermont: with ten state titles in program history, only MSJ, Hartford, and Bellows Falls can boast more. But given the format change for this year, they’re hoping something they borrowed from another group of championship-winning Tigers can help them remain near the top.

“I had a great opportunity to go down to South Carolina, Clemson University,” Nuceder said. “I took my ten-year-old son to a Dabo Swinney youth football camp. One of my biggest takeaways was a game called Swinney ball.”

“Swinney Ball” is a game created by the two-time national champion coach, and is somewhat of a hybrid between football, ultimate frisbee and rugby, where the players get four downs to try and go the length of the 40-yard field. But there’s one MAJOR quirk.

“It’s regular backyard football but you can pass forward after you cross the line of scrimmage,” said senior captain Mason Kaufmann. “So it just gets everyone getting their eyes upfield to work on getting open.”

There are no timeouts and virtually no time between plays which makes means they’re certainly getting their conditioning in.

“We’re constantly sprinting, we’re constantly cutting, constantly moving,” Rubright said. “There’s never really a time where the ball’s stopped. So you’re running for probably 30-40 minutes, it’s great conditioning and everybody’s having fun.”

And considering this season will require just about everyone to learn positions they’re not used to playing, Middlebury believes their familiarity with Swinney Ball could prove to be a game changer.

“Some of them are like, ‘You mean we get to play Swinney Ball on Friday nights?’ Nuceder said. “Obviously it’s not the same rules, but this is something that they’ve been able to do every week, all season long last year and you know, they’re excited.”

“All the positions are gonna be able to play, pass, I’m excited for that because we’ve kinda had a year advantage through Swinney Ball,” Rubright said.

“These student athletes are gonna make the opportunity the best that they can, and I think they’re gonna rise to the challenge,” Nuceder said. “I think we’re gonna have some of the best receiver linemen in the state.”

The Tigers and every other team in the state can begin official practices on September 8th, with games likely to begin about two weeks later.

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