Riverdale quarterback Joseph Cambridge looks to sharpen his skills this summer in several passing leagues and tournaments. (Staff Photo: Derrick Mahone)
JONESBORO — As Forest Park first-year football coach Reginald Austin looks to rebuild the Panthers’ once-proud program, he knows that the summer is the time to do it.
School is out, and he has his team’s full attention.
While there is no contact allowed, Austin — like many other coaches around the state — realizes that hitting the camp and 7-on-7 passing circuit is crucial to a team’s success.
Just ask Lovejoy, which has been known to stock-up on a heavy dose of summer camps and passing tournaments en route to building a state-championship contending program.
“During the summer, and at these camps, you learn to compete,” Austin said. “We have to learn to compete with other teams if we are going to get better.”
And the coach says his team is not shying away from any competition.
“We are going to do every thing we can to prepare these kids for the season,” said Austin, who played three years for the Chicago Bears in the NFL. “We are going to make as many of these tournaments as we can afford. We will compete each week at 7-on-7 passing leagues.”
Lovejoy will carry on its tradition of hosting a weekly passing league that has teams from around the southside area. The Wildcats first Tuesday passing session will start on June 3 at the school.
Before then, Lovejoy and Jonesboro will travel to Westlake High in southwest Atlanta to compete in the Cam Newton 7-on-7 Passing Tournament. Named after the former Westlake star and current Carolina Panthers quarterback, the tournament attracts some of the top teams in the state.
Jonesboro quarterback Zerrick Cooper will be one of the marquee quarterbacks at the three-day tournament, which starts on Thursday.
This spring, he became a high prospect on the recruiting trail as Miami, Kentucky, West Virginia, N.C. State and Clemson were among the schools that made scholarship offers.
“Playing in the summer passing league is important for you and your teammates,” said Cooper, a rising junior. “You get to work on your timing, and its a chance to install new plays. It is a lot of fun, but more importantly, it is a time to bond with your teammates. You look to win, but the important thing is to learn.”
Unlike last summer when Cooper was a first-year varsity player, he has a year’s experience after sharing the duties with Mario Atkinson, who has now graduated.
Cooper, who passed for 1,000 yards in a part-time role last season, will lead a potentially explosive offensive attack this season for the Cardinals, who have some high expectations.
Although Riverdale is making a big effort to be more effective in its running game this season, Raiders coach Terry Herrod said participation in summer passing leagues is a must for teams.
“It helps in conditioning and learning to compete,” said Herrod, who is entering his second season.
But coaches are quick to point out that you can get over confident in a good showing in these types of tournaments and leagues.
“It is good for the kids and your program, but you can’t make too much out of it,” Herrod said. “You can’t get too caught up in it.”
Jonesboro coach Tim Floyd agreed.
“There is a big difference when you bring the other elements of the game into it,” Floyd said. “There is no rushing the quarterback or tackling allowed. We are looking to learn, and have some fun. It is a good time for teaching.”