FITCHBURG — Local fans of gridiron action don’t have to wait until the fall to satisfy their hunger.
Summer football is in full swing, as the 7-on-7 high school football summer league hosted by St. Bernard’s is heating up at the Bernardian Bowl.
The league pits eight local high schools against each other in a passing format, with games taking place every Sunday from 6-7 p.m.until Aug 4. The final two weeks of the season will feature a playoff, with the championship taking place on Aug. 4.
High schools represented in the league are St. Bernard’s, Lunenburg, Gardner, Monty Tech, Clinton, Maynard, Narragansett and Oxford.
“It’s quite entertaining, and there is a heck of a crowd there,” St. Bernard’s head football coach Tom Bingham said. “I took a look (Sunday) night, and there were two fields going, eight teams, with each team having 12 to 15 players. There are a lot of kids there and a lot of people to support it. It’s a really healthy, positive thing for Central Mass. football, to get things going throughout the summer.”
The action features seven players per side, with a snapper, a quarterback, and five skill position players on offense, with a down and distance to achieve. The Bernardian Bowl is separated into two fields of 40 yards each, and teams play for one hour with a running clock. The defense features just linebackers and secondary members, with no blitzing.
Athletes participating in the event wear helmets and shoulder pads, and pay a small fee to cover the insurance to be able to play.
“It’s super competitive and there is no contact,” Bingham said. “But when there is a ball in the air, they both go up for it. We’re cautious of them bumping heads, so we had them in gear as a way for them to get into shape a little bit for the upcoming season.”
As a coach, Bingham says the summer workouts benefit passing situations in the regular season of the high school slate, something that helped during playoff games when running his two-minute offense.
“We used our two-minute offense quite a bit last year,” Bingham said. “We had successful two-minute drives in a couple of our playoff games last year. We are traditional, and run a play-action passing set in our 7-on-7, which doesn’t work out to be the best at times, but it is the offense we run so that’s a good thing. Everyone has it in their playbook somewhere, and you get the opportunity to see what the kids have got.”
Bingham agrees that it is a good platform for younger athletes to get acclimated with the program. He says with the summer nature of the league, attendance can shift week-to-week, but in that opportunity for the less experienced can arise.
“It’s summer time and not mandatory by any means,” Bingham said. “I think every Sunday everyone’s got different levels of players there, maybe towards the end there will be more varsity players all at once. It’s good to get them all out there working together.”
The MIAA is instituting rule changes for the upcoming high school season, and for the final two weeks of the league, some MIAA officials will be officiating the games so that players and officials can learn the new rules.
“It looks like we’re going to get real high school officials the last two weeks of it,” Bingham said. “It will give them the opportunity to call and enforce the new rules, and we’re looking to get the kids exposed to it, so that’s a really good thing.”
The summer passing league brings players from opposing schools together, giving them the chance to get to know each other, and build better competition when they face off in the regular season, Bingham says.
“I think it’s great from the sportsmanship and camaraderie standpoint,” Bingham said. “With all of the schools competing against each other it is a little different atmosphere, and it’s nice to see the kids interacting between the teams. They are out there in the summer together, and I think that’s a really healthy thing from the sportsmanship standpoint.”