Pac-12 football coaches and players discuss 7-on-7 games

Valencia's Mitchell Torres (right) tries to break free from a defender at the Rams 11-on passing tournament at El Camino College earlier this summer. Haley Sawyer/The Signal

Throughout the summer, prep football quarterbacks across Southern California are executing highlight-reel passes and receivers are snagging balls from staggering heights in the air.

It’s all part of 7-on-7 football, one of the latest trends to sweep the prep football scene in recent years.

Foothill League teams are no exception when it comes to competing in the scaled-back variation of football. Seven-on-7 football has seven players on each side of the ball with no offensive or defensive lines.

Depending on the 7-on-7 game or tournament, helmets may or may not be worn, but there are never any pads.

The games tend to be high-action, but at Pac-12 Football Media Day on Wednesday, college players couldn’t deny 7-on-7’s impact on football.

“Oh my god,” said University of Southern California receiver Michael Pittman, Jr. “Seven-on-7, that is the hottest topic. Seven-on-7 has turned into its own, like, season.”

The players didn’t necessarily see it in a positive light, however, with some arguing that it isn’t “real” football and without certain positions playing, it doesn’t fully showcase all of the team’s talents.

“I’ve never been a big fan,” said University of Arizona quarterback Khalil Tate. “Just because me as a quarterback, I can run also, so it’s never really been a good test to what I can do. I think it kind of hurts football in my opinion just because it’s not 11-on-11.”

With minimal blocking, it’s hard to get a true picture of what a team looks like. Tate said he would like to see linemen get more involved in passing leagues.

Without linemen, there’s an increased likelihood of big-time, eye-catching plays. Seven-on-7 is a flashier, more glamorous version of what’s seen on Friday nights, which can lead to more social media clout for prep football players if their plays are caught on film.

“They’re getting followers, they’re making videos, highlight videos, like, off of 7-on-7 tape, which I mean, is cool, but it’s not real football,” said Pittman, the older brother of Calabasas football alumnus and incoming University of Oregon freshman, Mycah Pittman.

“I’ve never been a fan of 7-on-7 because I never thought it was real football. But it is fun to go out there and play football also. It’s, like, a good thing to do, but I don’t think that you can put so much on it because it’s not real football.”

Prep football players can get attention from colleges based off of video highlights, but the NCAA restricts college coaches and scouts from attending 7-on-7 events.

Although it’s not the ideal recruiting tool, some coaches see 7-on-7 as a way to increase a player’s offensive football IQ before they reach the college level. University of Arizona coach Kevin Sumlin has found that recent generations of incoming freshmen players on both offense and defense are already equipped with knowledge that previously had to be taught at the college level.

“They’re seeing single-safety, two-safety rotations and they’re all over the place,” Sumlin said. “And receivers are doing sight adjustments, adjusting routes in the coverage. So I think what you’ve seen is, because of 7-on-7, offensive players are at a higher level coming into college right now, and it’s as high as it’s ever been. And the same thing with defense.”

The pass-centric version of football isn’t going anywhere, with teams loading up on passing tournaments for their offseason slates. Tate, however, suggested a compromise could be reached in the near future.

“Eventually 7-on-7 will need their own league,” he said. “Kids will do that just because parents are starting to be more, you know, tight about their kid getting injured. That’s football. That’s what makes it unique and I think 7-on-7 is doing a great job at getting bigger and with that said, they’ll probably have to make it their own in the next five years or so.”

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