Some coaches call it backyard football.
Even so, Carl Junction head football coach Jesse Wall sees the 7-on-7 passing league his players are involved in this summer as an opportunity for growth.
Carl Junction has two groups of backs and receivers in the league, as does Joplin. McAuley Catholic, Carthage, Afton and Miami also participate.
“Anytime you get the opportunity to play catch with someone, it helps,” Wall said. “It allows you to work on routes and timing.”
Coaching opportunities abound, particularly with players who lack varsity experience, as players learn their tendencies from one another. The league lasts four weeks, on consecutive Mondays. The first two weeks of games were played at Carl Junction, and the next two will be played at Junge Field in Joplin.
Carl Junction’s season will begin Aug. 24 with a home game against two-time defending Class 4 champion Webb City. A clock on one Webb City website, webbcityfootball.com, is counting down the days, hours, minutes, seconds and milliseconds.
Joplin head coach Chris Shields has been counting the days as well. The Eagles’ first game will be at home against Glendale.
Although Gabe Sachetta returns as the starter at quarterback, he is learning to work with several fresh faces among the backs and receivers, Shields said.
“We’re replacing our entire receiving corps and all of our starters in the secondary last year,” Shields said. “For us, in the secondary, it gives your guys a lot of opportunities to play different positions. You don’t want to keep one of your better guys on the sideline just because he hasn’t learned to play another position.”
Chris Payton-Barba returns as a starter at running back as does Abe Hueller at tight end, but Shields added that he plans to use starting linebacker Adam St. Peter, a 6-foot-5, 230-pound senior more often on offense.
“For receivers, all the routes are different and it gives coaches a chance to see who looks best where,” he said.
McAuley Catholic head coach Brenden Gubera is looking for similar opportunities with Shaw Robertson, a 6-4, 200-pounder who started at tight end last season.
“He will move to wide receiver for us,” Gubera said. “It’s great. We’ll look to find a mismatch.”
Mitch Ware, who passed for nearly 2,000 yards last season, returns as McAuley’s quarterback, with Martin Graham, a senior, and Andrew Castillo, a sophomore, in the backfield.
“Martin has shown some nice moves catching the ball out of the backfield,” he said. “We’re making progress and the kids are working hard.”
Defensively, the coaches said they use the 7-on-7 league to help reinforce proper positioning and to better learn the capabilities of individual players.
“It helps with alignment,” Wall said. “I like the fact that our kids get to compete with one another and find out who is going to do the things that are needed. The other thing is you get to teach kids a lot of stuff.”
Carl Junction’s quarterback, Keegan Pittman, is a returning starter who will be a senior this fall. Dustin Satterlee, a junior, and Chase Johnston, a sophomore, get their share of plays, too.
“We have six quarterbacks (including three freshmen) who have been playing in our passing league,” Wall said. “Any time you get the opportunity to help them out, it makes them better.
“We realize mistakes are going to be made. But the only time we as coaches are going to be upset would be if there’s a lack of effort.”
Carl Junction’s running backs are heavily involved in the passing game. “We use them on swing patterns and we get them downfield,” he said.
The backs are a big part of Joplin’s passing game, too, Shields said, and timing is important.
“It’s a lot harder than most people think, and those bubble screens, too,” Shields said. “It’s a great tool, but at the end of the day you’re running around in your underwear and the quarterbacks don’t have to worry about getting hit.”
Some coaches call it backyard football.
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