Football teams can’t just jump on the field in the fall and expect to win a championship. The offseason program, including the summer, goes a long way in helping a team get to where they want to be.
The early summer includes 7-on-7 camps, where quarterbacks and receivers get work against live opponents. Winters Mill recently hosted a series of camps featuring all county public school programs, the last one coming June 29.
Teams have different views on 7-on-7s, but all agree the summer work is a big step to helping reach their overall goals.
Here’s how county coaches view their programs midway through the summer:
Dave Ferguson enters his second season as Century head coach, but the first year he’s had the pleasure of getting a full offseason to work with. The Knights went 1-8, 1-5 last year, but Ferguson believes he’s seeing signs those totals can rise.
“We’re probably like most teams, we’re doing our offseason weight training, it goes year-round with the weight training. Now we’re kind of working into strength and conditioning, the speed and agility,” Ferguson said. “We work out four nights a week in the summer. Our numbers are pretty good, 20-30 kids in the weight room daily, which is not bad considering vacations and other sports. I’m happy with the turnout. Our numbers are looking up from last year, got a lot of good returning players, got a lot of new players out and some players that took a year or two off are coming back to play.”
Ferguson said one of the most “eye-opening” things to him in the offseason has been his rising juniors taking on and accepting leadership roles in wake of a small senior class. It gives him a good sense of what kind of team he will have in the fall.
“Our numbers were very low last year. We were very dependent upon some of the younger players to step up and we’ve done that this year,” he said. “We’re still going to be a young team this year but the roles and the way they responded have been outstanding. I think one thing sometimes teams struggle with is finding their own identity. Who are we? I think we’ve done that in the offseason, kind of find out who we are, what we want to be and how we want to get there.”
Francis Scott Key
David Cunningham is gearing up for his first year as Eagles coach after two seasons as an assistant. FSK is coming off a season in which it went 7-4 overall, 3-3 in county. Cunningham said he likes the progress he’s seen from his kids during the offseason program.
“The main thing we’re trying to do, along with my coaching staff, is gel everyone together,” he said. “If the kids see all of our coaching staff is one unit, they’re going to play all as one unit, too. The camps stuff is going smoothly. The numbers have increased. The first practice we had, we had about 55 kids out there from the JV to the varsity.”
While FSK loses a great deal of last year’s production, Cunningham says there is talent ready to step in.
“We’re pretty much decided,” he said of position battles. “Losing Jarren Rutter and Nick Diehl and Ryan Rill and Bryce Zepp is going to be a big loss, but we got dogs that are returning. The best thing we did last year, we got a lot of sophomores that are going to be upcoming juniors that started the whole season, and they’re going to continue to keep this legacy of Key football going on.”
The Lions (3-7, 3-3) were one of three schools that finished at .500 in county last season. As they look to break away from the pack, coach Larry Luthe wasn’t putting much stock in the 7-on-7 results. He was just happy to get his players on the field.
“I just like getting the kids together, get them out having fun,” Luthe said. “I don’t put much stock in 7-on-7, but it’s great to see quarterbacks and receivers work, just to get the timing and some of that stuff down. The big thing for me is getting the kids out having fun in hopefully a low-risk, high-energy setting. They’re competing every play, having fun and trying to get better.”
Luthe is happy with what he’s seen from this team the whole offseason and says they’re in a good spot. He’s looking to keep the excitement level up for the first official practice Aug. 10.
“We had a great lifting program going, we felt like our kids got a whole lot stronger through the winter and the spring” he said. “Now that we’re getting an opportunity to come out and play football, run a round a little bit, that’s great. By doing [7-on-7] we can do some of our install stuff, all those things go together and gets us more excited and more ready for Aug. 10.”
As the Mavericks (7-4, 3-3) look to make a move to challenge the county front-runners, coach Bernie Koontz said there are a number of things he looks for during the summer program.
“I think we have a lot of young kids that are stepping up and doing some stuff, so it’s always good to get out, get some of the JV kids that are moving up, give them a chance to mix in with the varsity kids and see what experience they can develop,” Koontz said. “Find some leadership from the returners. We got some seniors that are coming back that have stepped up and exemplified some good leadership, not just here at 7-on-7 but in the weight room and everything. Establishing a team bond for the summer cause it is a new group. Even though it’s continuing a program, it’s a new group of kids playing together going into the season that wasn’t together last year.”
Koontz said he’s seen some positive developments this offseason, and some surprises.
“We have some skill kids stepping up from JV to varsity that have been some pleasant surprises and some of the older kids are doing some good things,” he said. “Ben Pitta is working pretty hard at running back, Jake Boog at quarterback is doing a good job and showing good leadership coming off his state championship in wrestling. We got some good young kids that are stepping up and doing some things, James Herndon and Markell has done a good job transitioning to a wide receiver spot.”
The Cavaliers were the kings of the county in 2021, going unbeaten in league play and getting all the way to the Class 2A/1A state championship game, finishing 12-1 overall. Coach Mike Kraus, while admittedly not a big advocate of 7-on-7s, says there are specific things he looks for in the summer.
“First thing we look for is to see where their conditioning is at,” Kraus said. “Most of the older players, we have a general idea as to their skill sets. Young guys, we want to get them introduced to the verbiage and things of that nature, see how their athleticism is. The 7-on-7s give us a chance to get that one-on-one work with some kids individually.”
While it’s tough to gauge this year against last year because 2021′s condensed offseason after a spring schedule, Kraus said he wants his team to “pick up where we left off.”
“We feel like our seniors have had a taste of what it’s like to get to the mountain top. Now we just want to put our flag on the mountain top,” he said. “I’m not discouraged or disappointed. I have some things that I think we’re going to be pretty good at. We’re going to be a little different than we were last year. I’m not sure we’ll be as fast but we’ll be as solid as I think we can be.”
The Owls (8-4, 5-1) finished second place to South Carroll in the county last season, but a closer look at their schedule shows a team that came on strong, winning eight straight games after struggling out of the gate.
“I felt like we were playing our best football at the end of the year and we’ve tried to carry that momentum into the offseason to kind of propel us. We talked all year about starting fast this year,” coach Chris Bassler said. “If we want to get a high playoff seed and get multiple home playoff games, we really need to come out of the gate strong.”
Bassler said he’s seen signs that will happen thanks to both leadership and the emergence of new talent.
“The biggest thing I’ve seen, we have a really good group of leaders,” Bassler said. “The guy on the top of that list is Mason Fisher, who’s one of the best players coming back in the county. The thing that really makes Mason special is Mason is one of the hardest working people I’ve ever had and he’s kind of set the tone for our football team. When you have a guy that’s done what he’s done and is still the first guy at every workout and the last guy to leave, that has really set the tone for what we want to be about.
“Every year there are guys that are really ready to make that next step. We’ve seen a couple of our rising seniors that haven’t played a lot on the field that have really shown they’re ready to go. The two that are on the top of my mind are Vince McPeak and Aidan Midkiff, two guys that’s had great summers and performed really well at 7-on-7s, guys that we can hope make big impacts for us that fall.”
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While Falcons coach Matt Miller isn’t after 7-on-7 trophies. He wants to use the time to simulate aspects that will help his team come the fall.
“With 7-on-7, you don’t want to get too crazy. You want to make sure basic fundamentals, skills, that’s what your repping. Any trophy you win for 7-on-7 in the summertime doesn’t mean anything when the pads start,” Miller said. “So you want to make sure you’re not just calling plays to win 7-on-7. You look for, like, fundamentals, skills, technique. Inherently, things are going to be a little messy but that’s kind of what we look for. ... We want to compete, it’s still a game, it’s still competition. We tell our kids, ‘Win the 50-50 balls, run to the football if it’s in the air.’”
The Falcons went 1-9, 0-6 in 2021, but Miller has seen positive signs that improvement could be on the horizon.
“It’s nice when you see younger kids, we have some rising sophomores ... we just had a kid make a play here in the back of the end zone, that’s a 10th grader that caught the ball, I don’t know if he would’ve done that against high schoolers last year,” Miller said. “So it’s little pleasant surprises like that. ‘OK, I think we might have a place for this kid.’ That’s the kind of stuff you see here.”