There were no thigh pads, shoulder pads or facemasks at Hart High on Wednesday afternoon.
Few players got knocked to the ground.
Still, the practice between Hart and Crescenta Valley High of La Crescenta looked more like a real game than people are accustomed to seeing outside of Friday nights in the fall.
That’s because it was 11-on-11 rather than the 7-on-7 passing competitions that are staples of June and July.
The full-squad, two-hand-touch exercise, relatively new to the Santa Clarita Valley, gives coaches an opportunity to involve their linemen and to present quarterbacks with more realistic pressure, but it also has the potential to get testy should a rowdy team be involved.
That’s the balance coaches must walk, and they say the key is knowing and trusting the opposing coaching staff.
“I wouldn’t have any issues doing it with some teams now,” said Saugus coach Jason Bornn, “but again, it would have to be the right team and the right coaching staffs. If you’re not careful with this, you could end up playing a team that doesn’t quite see it the same way you see it (and guys can) get hurt.”
Saugus held 11-on-11 practices three years ago, but its summer schedule hasn’t matched up with schools it would be comfortable competing against in recent years.
The Centurions have an 11-on-11 practice tentatively scheduled against Village Christian of Sun Valley in July.
Canyon and Valencia highs are also planning a full-squad competition.
Earlier this spring, Hart competed against St. Francis of La Canada (whose coach is Hart grad Jim Bonds). The next time the Indians went full squad was Wednesday, which, Hart coach Mike Herrington said, presents another difference with 11-on-11: You can’t do it as often, so 7-on-7 is still necessary.
“The poor linemen would just get beat up every week,” said Herrington, who first heard about the exercise about five years ago from Upland High’s coach.
One of the first teams the Indians competed against in the exercise was Crescenta Valley, the squad that traveled to Hart on Wednesday.
“Just bringing all the guys out is great team chemistry wise,” said Crescenta Valley coach Paul Schilling, “and there’s nothing like the quarterback having to sit in there with a pass rush coming on him.”
“It’s tough. It’s hard. We’ve had blood and stitches from these kinds of things,” he said. “It really brings out a lot of toughness in the kids.”
On a few plays, Hart quarterback JT Shrout showed a little too much toughness for his coaches’ liking. Once, he tucked the ball and ran 15 yards before putting a spin move on a defender who touched him to end the play.
On another play, Shrout headed toward the boundary but cut back inside. An assistant coach reminded him to get out of bounds.
“It definitely makes it feel a lot more realistic when you have four or five guys coming at you instead of just sitting back there with three and a half seconds to throw downfield and then the whistle blows,” Shrout said.
As for Hart’s pass rush, senior defensive lineman Tom Bambrick said the Indians went 100 percent in the trenches (pulling up in time to not hit the QB).
As proof, Bambrick had his shirt ripped off by a blocker. Still, he said it was a good break from lifting and conditioning.
“Here we get to go out and practice against a live person who is not on our team,” he said, “and that felt great.”