Following a football season that ended in mid-April, rather than November or December, high school coaches find themselves in an unfamiliar position heading into what everyone hopes will be a conventional fall season.
The first official day of practice is coming right up on August 6.
"I didn't have a spring with the sophomores," Palo Alto coach Nelson Gifford said. "Usually I have January to June to get to know those guys."
7 on 7 football, an off-season staple for high school football players dating back multiple decades, has taken on added importance for Gifford's program. A 7 on 7 team is comprised of the six skill position players, the backs and ends who are allowed to touch the ball on offensive plays in regulation football, and a center.
"Now 7 on 7 is really important as a way to spend time with the kids in a football environment and give them a chance to play varsity football," Gifford said. "It's a ton of fun. It gives kids lots of reps in a short period of time. There's a lot of drudgery in football, but not in the summer. Unlike other sports, you can't play pick-up 11 on 11. So we do 7 on 7."
Teams running a version of the spread offense receive an obvious benefit from the synchronicity, the similarities in structure between the spread and 7 on 7. What about those running teams that rarely put the ball in the air and still thrive at the high school level?
"When we play 7 on 7 it's the only time we focus on passing," said Gunn coach Jason Miller, whose double-wing offense is one of the most run-heavy in the Central Coast Section.
Regardless of offensive philosophy, having a grasp on how to defend and contain the spread is an absolute must in the current football environment.
"It gives us the opportunity to play against talented, polished spread attacks." Miller said.
Paly engaged in some sort of 7 on 7 competition in five consecutive weeks this summer, including hosting a 16-team tournament that has become a yearly event at the school. And who won the tournament but Burlingame, which has run a traditional ground-oriented Wing-T offense for years.
The championship game featured two traditional running teams as Wing-T Burlingame (or Fling-T as Gifford dubbed them) beat Bellarmine in the final. But the Bells, always associated with a heavy running emphasis during Mike Janda's 35-year tenure as head coach, are now a spread team under second-year coach Jalal Beauchman.
Miller chose to wait until the start of summer school on June 14 to begin his summer football program, and has since had his team take part in several 7 on 7s.
"The shorter off-season has had a tremendous impact," Miller said. "Do you push the kids harder, or do you give them a break, let kids be kids?' Football stuff vs. life stuff. We chose life stuff."
Menlo-Atherton did not take part in its first 7 on 7 competition of the summer until Wednesday at Paly.
"At the end of spring we were still concerned about exposure to Covid," M-A coach Chris Saunders said. "So we've been doing things on our own, competing against ourselves.We did not want to have to shut down for two weeks and miss time in the weight room."
Some negative aspects of the shortened off-season have been experienced at Sacred Heart Prep.
"We got a late start, everything seemed a little behind in terms of what we want to accomplish in the summer," SHP coach Mark Grieb said. "Kids going to camps, some on the East Coast, we have an unpredictable number of kids showing up. And we have a pretty young team this year. We're going to have to be teaching kids on the run."
SHP, which has used a fly offense for a number of years, has also taken part in several 7 on 7 competitions, though Grieb was quick to note the footwork differences that exist for quarterbacks on teams that line up under center, like his own.
7 on 7 competition has been around for decades. Gifford and Grieb both mentioned taking part in them during their high school playing days in the 1990s. What's new now are travel teams, like we've grown accustomed to seeing in other sports, such as AAU basketball and club volleyball. Local high school coaches have divided feelings about 7 on 7 travel ball, understandably mostly negative.
But 7 on 7 is not going anywhere, largely because -- as most anyone who grew up playing flag football or even two-hand touch can tell you -- it's fun. At the high school level it's a counter to drudgery; quarterbacks get plenty of practice throwing, receivers and defensive backs receive an amplitude of repetition.
Tons of fun for skill-position players. But what about those interior linemen, the guys who are so instrumental to any kind of success in "real football,” the 11 on 11 version played in pads?
"They'll go off on another field and play their own 7 on 7 game," Gifford said. "Or sometimes our coaches will take them in the gym and have them play 3 on 3. The goal is the same, get them playing, let them have some fun, get them sweaty."