Jim Holzman ascended the steps adjacent to Manchester Valley High School's tennis courts and looked out across a vast practice field, where six different Carroll schools were just beginning their first series of plays.
Holzman smiled. For him and his fellow county varsity football coaches, Monday's inaugural 7 on 7 summer session marked the unofficial start to a new season in Carroll.
Man Valley's campus fields were divided into three sections were each school's 7 on 7 teams saw action. Games were 40 minutes long and teams got numerous chances to showcase their offensive talents — quarterbacks, running backs, and receivers match up against linebackers and defensive backs in a two-hand touch style of play.
Coaches can attend because the summer league isn't considered a true practice, but the summer gives each team plenty of time to evaluate and work on plays for the upcoming fall season.
"The competitive nature of it is good," Holzman said as Century's 7 on 7 team got set to play Westminster in the first portion of the afternoon. "The kids get after it a little bit in June. Catching, throwing, working on your routes. Precision, seeing who can run with kids in man coverage. Communication, all that. It's not exactly indicative of how you're going to play. But it's June 6 and we're out here playing football. That's pretty good."
Knights junior Anthony Perrone had 36 catches last fall, third most in Carroll, and helped Century post a winning record (6-4) last fall. Part of Perrone's success could have been linked to his summertime participation — there's no limit to how many 7 on 7 leagues a team can be in, which is why Century, Liberty, and South Carroll played in a regional one at St. Paul's School in Baltimore on Sunday.
"It helps our offense and defense kind of get into a rhythm," Perrone said. "It makes us play good together when we're in "Friday Night Lights," in those really intense moments. I'm just trying to come out 100 percent every time."
The Baltimore Ravens help sponsor three regional tournaments, (Tuscarora in Frederick County hosts the next one June 12), and the top two teams after those three compete in a championship round June 25.
Carroll's 7 on 7 isn't designed in a tourney format. The purpose, the coaches say, is to get ready for the fall. That's one of the reasons why the league is open to anyone who wants to play for their school.
But that doesn't mean it's laid-back once the games begin.
"I don't like losing, so I'm really competitive out here," said junior Jamar Williams, who had 753 yards in South Carroll's offense and scored 14 touchdowns last season.
Williams said those who take part in various 7 on 7 events throughout the summer, along with a weightlifting routine, definitely see results when it comes time for football tryouts in August.
"You can tell they've been working hard. Right now you can see what they need to work on," Williams said. "It helps develop a bond with people you've never played with. You get used to passing the ball a lot."
Carroll's 7 on 7 league runs for two weeks, takes a one-week break, then continues into late July. SC coach Steve Luette helps run the league and said participation has been steady for a few summers now.
Monday saw junior varsity play games before the varsity took over from 6-8 p.m. They'll do it again Wednesday and continue on a two-day-a-week basis all summer.
"It gets them back in the swing of things with football," said Luette, whose team went 10-2 last fall and played in the Class 2A West Region title game. "It gets them catching [and] throwing a little bit. It kind of gives us a jump on the season.
"We're putting our plays in, we're running with everybody. The ... advantage out here is we can start putting our stuff in."