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Summer signals football overdrive

Photo by Derrick Mahone
Lovejoy coach Al Hughes and his Wildcats will host a weekly summer passing league each Tuesday.

Photo by Derrick Mahone Lovejoy coach Al Hughes and his Wildcats will host a weekly summer passing league each Tuesday.

Summer passing leagues are starting to be seen in the same manner as cell phones.

It’s hard to live without them, and you wonder how you ever managed before them.

At least that’s the notion you get after talking to some of the football coaches across the Southern Crescent about the matter.

Just mere days removed from the conclusion of the school year, class is still in session for football athletes and their coaches who desire to get a jump on preparations for the fall.

And what used to be seen as a luxury — or a nuisance, depending on who you talk to — is now regarded as a necessity.

Ola coach John Kovzel said its a trend that seems to be catching on everywhere quickly. Kovzel said he’s got Ola committed to more than half a dozen this summer.

“These are the most passing leagues I’ve ever scheduled since I’ve been here,” said Kovzel, who’s entering his sixth season as the Mustangs’ head coach. “It used to be a deal where people said they didn’t want to waste any time with it. People didn’t see the value of it. But now, more people are doing and it’s become valuable.”

All across the country, high school 7-on-7 summer passing leagues are becoming as much a staple in a football program’s landscape as shoulder pads, cheerleaders and pep bands.

It’s a convenient way for coaches to get extra work in on the passing game without compromising valuable time in spring ball and fall camp that could be used to work on fine tuning fundamentals.

“This summer, with all the passing leagues it’s going to give us a great opportunity to get some young guys good work at receiver,” said Jonesboro coach Tim Floyd.

Such work is crucial for the Cardinals as they graduated their top three wideouts, two of which — Cameron Sutton and Taurean Ferguson — are taking SEC caliber talent with them and a third, Dereon London, who snagged five touchdown passes in 2012.

Jonesboro offensive coordinator Nate Wardlaw said that the summer gives receivers and defensive backs alike priceless opportunities to hone technique against live opposition.

“We could go and practice our guys and run and defend routes against the air, but guys tend to look smoother against air than they do when facing natural competition,” Wardlaw said.

“We’ll see all kinds of speed, techniques, different types of coverages, safeties and corners. It will get us ready for the real season.”

One drawback, Kovzel said, about the summer leagues is that their seven-man nature doesn’t allow for running backs and linemen to get much work.

Mount Zion coach Ervin Starr said he offsets that dilemma by involving his trench men in specified linemen camps that are designed with the same goals in mind as the skill-position focused leagues.

“We just try to get all of our guys working out in as many places as possible, as much as possible throughout the summer,” Starr said. “It helps us keep ahead of the game. So many are doing it that if we don’t, we’ll fall behind.”

New Dutchtown coachKevin Jones is even more direct.

“It’s the summer, and that means the season has started,” Jones said. “There’s a lot of work during the summer that we have to do if we want to be as good as the Lovejoys and the Stockbridges of the world. Every kid in every school in the state will say their goal is to win a state championship. But there’s a different kind of work you need to do in order to get there.”

Work that involves veteran players perfecting their skills, and upstart guys trying to solidify a starting spot on the roster.

That’s why Lovejoy coach Al Hughes said he likes the fact that the Class AAAAAA runners up will host a 7-on-7 passing league of sorts — the Lovejoy group won’t be playing for place or prizes — on their various practice fields starting Tuesday.

Hughes has as many talented players returning as he has graduating — not to mention several gifted transfers. He also has three quarterbacks who are vying for the No. 1 job. Summers are priceless, he says, for building cohesion between new sets of players.

“By virtue of how we play and utilize our personnel, just about everybody that’s back has seen some type of playing time last season,” Hughes said. “Depth isn’t our problem. The biggest concern coming out of spring ball will be developing chemistry, especially with our quarterbacks and receivers. Having chemistry set going into the fall is crucial to the success we try to have around here.”