This time last year, there were no 7-on-7’s. No scrimmages. Not even full practices for high school football teams around the state and country.
Because of that, this off-season means just a little more to those teams.
On Wednesday morning, Morristown East and Grainger got together for some 7-on-7 work as the dead period came to an end on Monday and the season quickly approaches.
“I think it is big for us because we’re going to replace some big pieces,” Morristown East coach Caleb Slover said. “Just to be able to come out here and throw against someone else and get some different looks is what we need. We have a new quarterback that is starting, so he needs all the reps with those older guys. He’s got a bunch of targets to throw to so we just need him to get comfortable out there and get a feel for things.”
After seeing a season with really no off-season last year and now seeing one this year where things are back to normal, Slover was quick to note the most beneficial thing that a full off-season has brought to his team.
“The positive thing is that I think the kids are starting to understand that the season is here and it’s time to start going,” Slover said. “In two weeks, we’ll be scrimmaging someone else and not long after that we’ll be suiting up and getting ready to play. Our kids understand that now and there’s a bigger sense of urgency now.
“Coming together as a team when you’re a new team every June, it’s kind of a struggle because they don’t know each other and haven’t really bought into that family feel yet. When July hits though, it’s ready to go and ready to get after it. So, I think that is the most beneficial thing for us is that our kids know that urgency and are ready.”
The most notable piece that Slover has to replace this season is quarterback Cole Henson. An All-State quarterback, Henson broke just about every passing record in East history over his four years.
However, Henson is gone now and that means Eli Seals will be the shot-caller in 2021. Seals will have a lot of help around him as All-State receiver Micah Simpson and Trevor Malone both return out wide while 1,000-yard rusher Ethan Ledford is back in the backfield.
Along with that “core group” as Slover calls them, the ‘Canes have seen some younger players, along with Seals, step up over the off-season into some key roles.
“I think for us, there has been a bunch of young guys step up,” Slover said. “Micah Crawford has stepped up and done a good job for us. Skyler Hubbard and Nate Roberts have both been good. Carter Gilliam has come out for the team this year and has been good. Aden Welch is playing both sides and was really good today. And we have some freshmen who are going to be able to put their foot on the gas and play for us.”
The 7-on-7 Wednesday, while rusty at times, showed the potential that the East offense could have. Simpson was a standout as he scored time and time again out wide, using his speed to blow past the Grainger secondary. Malone also made multiple nice grabs as Seals began to look far more comfortable as the 7-on-7 continued.
East will go through one more 7-on-7, this morning with South Greene, before putting on the pads next week. That’s when the real work starts and East will get in at least two scrimmages, against Clinton and Heritage, before the season gets under way.
For Slover, those practices with full pads is where he will see what his team is really made of.
“We have a lot of things to work on,” Slover said. “We haven’t been in pads so we haven’t been able to really work on our run game. We have to get more timing on our offense, we missed a lot of throws today. We have to complete those things. We have a lot of little things to work on in the next few weeks as the pads come on.”