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Texas turns pass-happy due to 7-on-7 leagues

Compiled from Times wires
© St. Petersburg Times
published July 19, 2002

HOUSTON -- For decades, Texas tradition called for teams to do three things to be successful -- run hard, run fast and run often.

That is one of the reasons there are far more running backs and offensive linemen than quarterbacks on the list of legendary high school and college players from the state.

The steady transformation from power running to high-powered passing is getting a boost from the hotly contested 7-on-7 games involving high school players around the state.

Throughout the spring and summer, high school squads get together for the pads-free games that are helping change the state of football in Texas. The competition culminates this year with a state tournament that began Thursday in College Station.

"When you think football in the state of Texas, you think power running and option football," said University of Texas receivers coach Darryl Drake.

"The state always produced athletes with great speed and guys who could run, and the same for the teams. You never really thought about drop-back passing when you thought about Texas."

That is changing.

Four of UT's top five all-time passing seasons have come since Mack Brown took over in 1998 and there is no shortage of throwing quarterbacks available in the state these days. Waiting in the wings at UT are three Texans -- Vincent Young (Houston Madison), Chance Mock (The Woodlands) and Matt Nordgren (Dallas Bishop Lynch) -- who will be expected to continue the Longhorns' recent passing fancy.

Texas Tech coach Mike Leach, who has recruited Texas for 10 years, is looking for points. He sees no shortage of arms capable of getting the job done in his spread offense that in three seasons has set a record in almost every passing category.

Tech senior Kliff Kingsbury, a preseason Heisman Trophy candidate, has set 33 school records in two seasons as a starter. He played for his father, Tim Kingsbury, at New Braunfels, where in 1997 -- two years after the University Interscholastic League approved 7-on-7 competitions -- he led it to the state Class 5A Division II semifinals in a pass-first offense.

"It was always a mystery to me why (7-on-7) wasn't allowed in Texas, especially when you consider the emphasis on football in the state," Leach said. "Not only does it help with the skills of the players involved, it is a lot of fun for the kids. At every camp I've worked, the most fun the players had was the 7-on-7 games."

The teams play on a 45-yard field that is 160 feet long and scoring is similar to regulation football, with a touchdown worth six points, but there is no kicking. Following a score, a team gets one extra point for scoring again from the 3-yard line, and two extra points if it scores from the 10, and there are no running plays.

With two 20-minute halves, no timeouts and quarterbacks forced to throw the ball within four seconds on each play and three downs to get 15-yard first downs, the game is fast-paced.

Offensive squads are made up of a quarterback, a center (who is not eligible to catch passes), three or four receivers and one or two running backs. Defensive units consist of three linebackers and four defensive backs.

"Six or seven years ago, there were just a handful of (high school) teams doing 7-on-7, now everyone is doing it and there's a reason -- it has helped those guys tremendously," Drake said.

Receivers' route-running and pass-catching abilities get better, and defenders' coverage ability and reaction time to the ball improve by participating in 7-on-7, but some believe quarterbacks get the most out of the games.

Shadow drills can improve footwork and delivery, but it's throwing to targets being defended closely by two extra defenders with just four seconds to get off the throw that helps quarterbacks get comfortable with reading defenses and making smart, quick decisions.

Baytown Lee's Drew Tate, who led the Ganders' 7-on-7 squad to the state title last year, said going against live competition helps him read defenses better.

"You could learn things in other drills, but it's so much easier to do it in 7-on-7," Tate said. "It helps you learn every route on every play and gives you more insight into the offense."

Tate also believes the competitions give him a leg up on preparing for defenses in the fall, particularly because what his team does in 7-on-7 is extracted from the Ganders' pass offense.

"This is good for all the players, but especially the younger ones," Tate said. "It gives them some idea of how it's going to be when we come out in August."

And you can bet Tate and the Ganders, like many other schools in the state, will come out throwing.

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