Summer 7-on-7 scrimmages are a little like reality television shows with unscripted situations and events.
The touch football competition using quarterbacks, receivers, linebackers and defensive backs doesn't reflect the reality of a real football game, but the competitive venues help players to sharpen throws, refine passing routes and polish coverage techniques.
“This is where everybody gets to see their mistakes,” said Chaparral quarterback Kyle Gallup. “What we take from here, we take back to school, work on it and fit it for August when practice starts. We can't have the mistakes we have out here when it comes to game time because there is no forgiveness then.”
Chaparral and Mountain Vista were two of the 64 teams from all classifications that participated in the annual Denver Broncos 7-on-7 tournament June 19-22 at All-City Stadium and Dove Valley.
Both Continental League teams are seeking a starting quarterback for next season.
Gallup and Cole Lehman, both juniors, are the leading contenders to replace Chaparral quarterback Max Kuhns, who threw for 2,401 yards and 25 touchdowns with a .654 completion percentage last season.
The 6-foot-2, 190-pound Gallup has more experience. He has logged 20 games on the junior varsity teams the past two seasons and was Kuhns' backup during the 2012 campaign. He played in five varsity games, completed five of nine passes for 109 yards and was the Wolverines' quarterback last summer in 7-on-7 games because of Kuhns' baseball commitments.
Lehman, 6-1, 170 pounds, has seen JV action.
“Max was a great quarterback and a guy we both looked up to,” said Gallup. “I got to see last season how different the varsity is from JV and the speed change. I feel like I'm ready to play. We have battles going on for all positions and there is still a lot of learn before the season starts. This is just helping us along the way.”
Gallup knows that success in 7-on-7 games doesn't translate to games once the high school season begins. In 7-on-7 competition, there are no big linemen or blitzing linebackers putting pressure on the quarterback, and receivers don't worry about holding onto the ball after absorbing a hard hit. The only stress is to get the pass off in four seconds or 4.5 seconds if it is a rollout pass.
“The pressure isn't the same,” admitted Gallup. “The pressure on the quarterback and people that get the ball isn't the same. It's a lot calmer, you have time. It is really good for quarterbacks and receivers recognizing coverages, seeing how well you go against one-on-ones and how we throw the ball against a regular defense.”
In five games in the Broncos tournament, Gallup threw 19 touchdowns passes and Lehman had eight scoring throws. Brandon Malone, Chaparral's premier basketball player who was a big-play receiver last season, averaging 18.1 yards per catch, hauled in many of those TD pitches.
Chaparral advanced to the 16-team single-elimination finals June 22 and beat Brighton before losing to Discovery Canyon when a potential Wolverines winning pass was dropped in the end zone with three seconds remaining.
“Both quarterbacks are going to be good,” said Malone. “You can't doubt your quarterback.
Chaparral coach John Vogt likes what he has seen.
“We're about where we are every year,” he said. “Two years ago Max was new. Last year Kyle did it all because Max was playing baseball in the summer. He has experience and he's going to be fine. Cole has had JV experience. He's been a late bloomer. He's one of those kids that is developing.
“We've had some receivers step up. Brandon Malone is what he is and the other kids have stepped up. Nolan Ellis, Mitch Ross and those guys have been good. The kids know what to do and they make plays. There have been a lot of good guys come before them, so that is kind of the expectation. That's a program deal.”
Mountain Vista quarterback Ryan Rubley, who passed for 1,681 yards last season, has graduated and will continue playing at the University of Tulsa, so the Golden Eagles are looking for the next starting quarterback with senior Josh York and junior Brock Rubley, Ryan's brother, battling for the job.
York, 6-1, 195, was Ryan Rubley's backup in 2012 but didn't throw a pass in varsity action.
“Seven-on-7 is a great option,” said Mountain Vista coach Ric Cash. “It's not real football, necessarily, but it is a situation where we are getting the reps, you can work on timing and other things. Even though it's not what you would call real football, it is a great opportunity for us to get some work done. You get to see a lot of different situations and scenarios.
“Josh and Brock are going to battle it out all summer and in the preseason. We can't make any decisions based on 7-on-7.”
Whoever is selected as the starting quarterback will have some support returning with Rocco Palumbo, an all-league receiver who caught 43 passes last season, and running back Tanner Smith, who averaged 127.3 yards a game rushing.
“Having Rocco back helps,” said Cash. “He needs to be patient as the quarterbacks learn the ropes. It also helps to have Tanner Smith coming back. It helps to have an all-league running back to lighten the load on the quarterbacks.”