ATTLEBORO — In these socially distant days of athletics at every level, might there be a future for seven-on-seven high school football?
Instead of the tradition-rich game of 11 players per team on a field with an offense, a defense and linemen on both sides "down in the trenches", there may be the possibility of a new brand of “tag” football for the fall of 2020.
Awaiting state guidelines for participatory sports for the fall season at the high school level, many area football coaches have circled Aug. 21 on their calendars as the reporting date to commence preseason practice.
Those were the old days of football during the normal pre-pandemic gridiron days.
Seven-on-seven football is very similar to the summer “passing league” camps which place an emphasis on the skill positions — quarterbacks, running backs and receivers on offense, while on defense, the work by linebackers and the secondary.
Seven-on-seven football has become a popular non-contact game played during the off-season by many programs through the spring and summer to sharpen the skills of players and gain further exposure on the recruiting circuits. It is akin to AAU basketball, especially in such hotbed football areas as Texas, Ohio and Florida.
“I’d be against it,” Norton High football coach Jim Artz said of seven-on-seven being an alternative to “football as we know it. How you’re going to do that with kids wearing masks? I don’t know. It’s not real football!
“If they (MIAA) get to the point that they think that fall sports are really in danger, I hope that they think about moving football to a spring sport. That would make more sense.”
North Attleboro High football coach Don Johnson and the Rocketeers can’t wait until a Friday night game at Community Field or a Saturday afternoon at Ray Beaupre Field.
“I haven’t heard anybody discussing that,” Johnson said of any feedback from the Mass. Football Coaches Association. “I’ve heard more about switching football to the spring, but I haven’t heard anything about reduced numbers (on the field) for football.
“What do you do with all the linemen?” Johnson asked to the reduced opportunities of competition for other members of the roster beyond skill position players, not to mention the absence of game film for recruiting purposes.
With Phase 3 of restrictions being mobilized this week, North Attleboro High has mobilized its “outdoor” weight room for the Rocketeers to begin socially distant training.
“The MIAA is not doing anything until they get a statement from Governor (Charlie) Baker in mid-July,” Johnson said.
According to Bishop Feehan High football coach Bryan Pinabell, “I haven’t heard anything about it (seven-on-seven). From what I understand, the MIAA will be coming out with something in mid-July about what might be going on.
“I think Massachusetts is in much better shape going forward than a lot of other states,” Pinabell said of the potential for fall athletic competition in all sports.
“The people down South are in big trouble for a (football) season,” he added of the nation's football-ingrained communities, not just for high school football, but for collegiate programs.
“My personal opinion is that the game of football should be played the way that it is supposed to be played. The other side is that you want to give the kids the opportunity to do something. If that’s the best opportunity to do something for a year then it’s not a bad thing.
“That’s just as important as giving them an opportunity to play football. ”
Defending MIAA Division 2 Super Bowl champion Mansfield High head coach Mike Redding knows that he has four weeks to prepare his team for its scheduled 2020 season opener in September from the pre-pandemic scheduled guidelines to begin training.
But what happens if the starting date is changed as well as the dates for scheduled competition? Could a seven-on-seven football league be a remedy?
“People who run the seven-on-seven camps and tournaments during the summer are planning on doing them if we get to Phase 3,” Redding said. “But it’s not clear yet if he (Governor Baker) is going to allow certain sports in Phase 3. We’re not sure if seven-on-seven (football), basketball and soccer are going to be allowed or will they wait until Phase 4.
“Everyone is on pins and needles. We’re not going to do seven-on-seven during the summer, we’re just going to do our own thing – if they allow it. If they allow soccer and field hockey, I think that they would allow football in some capacity.
“I was talking with someone in New Jersey and he didn’t think they or New York are going to have high school football," Redding said. "They might let kids play seven-on-seven to at least get recruited, get some film. But for linemen, they’re in a bind.”
Attleboro High football coach Mike Strachan understands the “wait and see” approach by federal, state and local officials in consideration of health and safety hazards.
“We all want to start August 21," Strachan said. "The kids are starting to get together a bit to run, do some things. They’re getting ready to go again, they’re resilient.
“It’s going to be hard with social distancing," he added. "I don’t know how you do that in football. I think it will come down to all the common sense things that we talk about, making sure that you wash your hands, making sure that you’re sanitized, taking temperatures.
“Everybody is just kind of holding their breath.”