By Rob Ketcham
The Cullman Times
WEST POINT —
In almost all regards, 7-on-7s are a shell of its 11-man counterpart. Less players. Less time. Less at stake. Less everything.
But hey, it’s football — and at this time of year, who can complain about that?
Not West Point, Cold Springs or Holly Pond, which all joined Oakman and Winston County on the Warriors’ home field Thursday for a bit of summertime competition.
With so many new pieces inside and outside the sidelines, the Broncos perhaps had the most to gain from the play date, which came just less than two weeks before the Alabama High School Athletic Association’s first designated day of team practice.
“On offense, we’re playing a freshman quarterback and some receivers that are running routes they’ve never run before,” said Mike Bates, who made coaching stops at Cullman, Bob Jones, St. Paul’s and three other schools before being hired by Holly Pond in mid-May. “But I’m not making excuses. We wanted to make sure we competed and got after it, and after about six or seven minutes of the game, we started doing that. That part I liked.”
The freshman quarterback Bates spoke of is Michael Lambert, whose targets at wide receiver include Dakota Burks and M.J. Ford. The Bronco coach was pleased to see Lambert and Burks connect for a score in the squad’s opening 20-minute session against Oakman, which is expected to make waves in Class 2A this fall.
“He’s got a lot of growing to do,” Bates said of Lambert, a lefty. “He’s not there yet by any stretch of the imagination, but he’s real easy to coach, and he’s real willing. He throws a real catchable ball.”
Holly Pond only had four days of spring practice to install a new offense and limited opportunities to meet during the summer before the 7-on-7 camp. By the time Thursday rolled around, Bates was just happy for his squad to “get a bunch of reps.”
“We’ve actually lined up on defense three times before today. I don’t know why we’re not better at it,” the coach said with a chuckle.
Bates didn’t mind his first dose of competition since leaving St. Paul’s in 2008, either.
“I just had some fun out there,” he said. “I’ve been having fun since I got out there. It’s going to be a challenge to get them to where we need to be, but at the same time, that’s what we’re here for. We’re trying to get better, and today, we got a little bit better.”
The main thing Cold Springs’ Rod Elliott wanted from Thursday’s outing was conditioning, which wasn’t a problem considering the low 90-degree temperatures baking away at the players at the event’s outset.
With Elliott back for a second-straight season and sixth overall, the Eagles aren’t expected to throw the ball around too much this fall. They looked fine in the department on Thursday, though, as senior Logan Campbell showed good movement and decent accuracy in Cold Springs’ first 20 minutes versus West Point.
“We’re like a fish out of water throwing the ball around, but we did OK,” Elliott said. “We seemed to throw the ball better when we were on the move, which is what we do.”
Depending on the personnel package called, Elliott said Campbell will split time at quarterback and running back, with Austin Moore serving as the squad’s other signal-caller.
Compared to years past, the coach plans to implement a more multiple offense. Elliott didn’t go so far to call it a spread but did say he wants to “spread the ball around,” referring to opening up the field and in terms of player involvement.
In addition to his two roles on offense, Campbell also made his presence felt on D, intercepting the Warriors’ last throw of the game and playing a part in multiple pass breakups.
Like Cold Springs, West Point generally doesn’t make its name through the air, instead relying on its speed and athleticism to rack up yards with the run. Interim coach Don Farley did acknowledge the importance of working on the spread, though, especially since his team likes to go, go, go with the hurry-up offense.
It’s not like the Warriors don’t have the tools to pass, either, with third-year quarterback Bryant Farley behind center, Kobe Smith running and catching the ball out of the backfield, and versatile wide outs Jordan McKenzie and Tristan Dubberly helping out in every way possible. And don’t forget Ryder Jones, who provides a big body, and therefore big target, at the tight end position.
“They’re our playmakers as far as the guys with the ball,” coach Farley said. “But we’re going to be the kind of offense where it’s going to be the guys on the front line that are going to make it work. It starts with them.”
One of Farley’s favorite perks of the 7-on-7 camp was the chance for his quarterback and receivers to work on reads. As West Point’s defensive coordinator the last few years, he appreciated the opportunity for that unit to dissect opposing offenses, too.
“You can’t say how much you get defensively out of it because you are going to see spread teams regardless, so secondaries and linebackers are getting really good looks,” Farley said. “It’s really beneficial for them — and it’s not a bad conditioning drill (laughs).”
% Rob Ketcham can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 138 or at email@example.com.