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‘Football is football’: After disappointment of losing normal season, teams prep for 7 vs. 7

  • Hartford High football players stretch during opening day of practices in White River Junction, Vt., on Sept. 8, 2020. Vermont teams will be playing seven-on-seven games in geographic zones to limit exposure during the pandemic. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. valley news photographs — Geoff Hansen

  • Hartford High starting quarterback Cole Jasmin runs through a footwork drill as Colin Vielleux waits to go next during the opening day of practice in White River Junction, Vt., on Sept. 8, 2020. Vermont schools will be playing seven-on-seven football, passing only with no blocking or tackling. Hartford opens their season at Windsor on Sept. 26. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Hartford High head football coach Matt Trombly talks about the upcoming seven-on-seven season during opening day of practices in White River Junction, Vt., on Sept. 8, 2020. Trombly said in past seasons the team has played seven-on-seven against other area schools as a warm-up for their games. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Geoff Hansen

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 9/8/2020 10:24:12 PM
Modified: 9/8/2020 10:26:07 PM

WHITE RIVER JUNCTION — If the playing field is truly an extension of the classroom, a lot of people — adults and youths alike — will be in learning mode on Vermont high school football fields this fall.

Teams began formal workouts on Tuesday, starting a 2½-week sprint to adapt to the seven-vs.-seven touch format mandated by the Vermont Principals Association as a coronavirus-influenced alternative to the tackle norm. The Vermont Interscholastic Football League aligned its 30 football schools into four geographic pods for a nine-game season starting at month’s end and produced a rulebook for a game that will feature passes on every play as well as one- or two-hand touch in lieu of takedowns.

Now it’s up to coaches and players to figure out the rest.

“It was definitely devastating news to find out that my senior year was going to be a lot different than it was in the past, and it doesn’t look like the football I’m used to playing or that I really want to play,” Hartford High senior quarterback Cole Jasmin said during a break in the Hurricanes’ debut practice. “But, to me, football is football. As long as I can touch the pigskin and come out and play with my team, I’m definitely going to be there to do that.”

Seven-vs.-seven removes line play from the equation; it’s the element of the game that caused Vermont government authorities the most concern for virus transmission as they debated the fall sports landscape. VPA football will still feature 15-minute quarters; displaced linemen will face off against each other in the first and third periods.

Folks like Windsor High coach Greg Balch are happy have something to play, given the alternative: nothing.

“We’re just excited to play football,” Balch said. “I think we’ve got a strong turnout. They’re very positive about seven-on-seven vs. tackle football. It hasn’t fazed them a bit. From a playing and coaching standpoint, there’s a lot for us to learn.”

Seven-on-seven is usually a summer training tool for passing-game work. St. Johnsbury Academy coach Rich Alercio has hosted a one-day seven-on-seven tournament in late July the past few years, an event the virus canceled this time around.

Woodstock coach Ramsey Worrell has had teams at Alercio’s tourney before. Not enough to establish a solid foundation in the game, however.

“In the St. Jay tournament, you’re allowed to have one offensive coach on the field; we’d just use our prep book, huddle everyone up, hold up the book, look at routes and go,” Worrell said. “We have to translate that into the kids on the field at the time, which I’d asked not to have to do. That’s the biggest hurdle for us.

“We’re not going to install a whole new offense. We’re going to put in enough plays to have a season. That’s it.”

Seven-on-seven’s less-physical nature will permit Vermont teams to play a full nine-game slate, if they wish, in half the time to complete a schedule. Assuming the Vermont Agency of Education and Department of Health agree to enter Step III of their school sports restart program — they’re currently at Step II, prohibiting interscholastic play — the Vermont season will begin the weekend of Sept. 25-26.

Although the VPA has said there will be no state tournament, Balch is hoping for a change of mind.

“It’s a huge mistake on the part of whoever’s making that decision,” Balch said. “The lack of postseason play is a much bigger detriment or discouragement to the kids in our program than going to seven-on-seven from tackle. The idea that there’s no big carrot at the end is something they’re pretty down about.”

Hartford coach Matt Trombly will still dedicate some daily practice time to an 11-on-11 classroom. Assistant coach Bill Schellong worked linemen through a blocking drill on Tuesday, employing hand-held pads that must be cleaned frequently per guidelines.

“For me, it was important that we keep continuity,” the sixth-year head coach said. “To lose a whole year would be a real killer.”

It’s a different ballgame in Vermont this fall. It’s not what Jasmin expected, but it’s one to which he’ll willingly adapt.

“I’m definitely excited to throw the ball 50 or 60 times in game; that’s super exciting,” he said. “But I’d definitely rather be with the pads on and have my linemen on the same field with me. That’s the only thing.”

Greg Fennell can be reached at gfennell@vnews.com or 603-727-3226.




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