Photos by Matt Keller
Wednesday July 22 was just another idyllic night in Hinesburg, indistinguishable from the rest of picture perfect, sun-splashed evenings that have made up the month of July. But for the group of young men who make up the CVU football program, it was a long awaited chance to test themselves in new coach Mike Williams’ system. In front of a small crowd of mostly friends and family, CVU took on Mt. Mansfield in a 7-on-7 scrimmage and a “Big Man Challenge” last Wednesday evening at 6pm.
“Overall, it went great,” said head coach Mike Williams. “All the boys got to compete. From our standpoint, it was all positive.”
In this day and age of increasing concern about concussions, football teams at all levels have been forced to adjust how they prepare for the season. It is hard to prepare for football without actually playing football, but science has forced all football leagues, from Pop Warner to the NFL, to make mandatory cutbacks in the amount of hitting the players are allowed to do.
This concern over unnecessary hitting has fueled the rise of 7-on-7 football leagues and scrimmages, as well as “Big Man Challenges,” where linemen can go toe-to-toe with one another without actually taking any blows to the head. In 7-on-7, the rules are straightforward: it is touch football with no linemen allowed. It is simply an exercise for backs, tight ends, and receivers to go up against linebackers, safeties, and cornerbacks from the other team. Both sides of the ball also get the opportunity to practice plays and formations against real competition.
Despite missing a decent amount of starters on both sides of the ball due to other commitments, CVU showed well in both competitions. Perhaps most impressive to coach Williams was the way that the team threw the ball on offense. “There were only a few times we didn’t throw it on time,” Williams said. “Mt. Mansfield is more of a throwing team than us, but one thing we learned on Wednesday is that we will be able to throw the ball in any situation. I was pleased with the timing of our throws for the most part. It was great to see the improvement with our QB’s.”
Coach Williams hasn’t been shy about preaching a smash mouth, run-first philosophy, but he has also been insistent that CVU will be a threat to pass out of any situation. His players backed him up on Wednesday, showing a well-timed passing attack with several big plays and impressive catches. On defense, there were also several interceptions. “We made some nice plays on the ball on defense,” Williams said, referring to the interceptions. “For the most part, the players were where they needed to be. We still need to be more aggressive, but as understanding goes, it was a good night.”
As for the “Big Man Challenge,” it was clearly a chance for the linemen to let go of some pent up aggression they developed during off-season workouts. In a good natured, safe environment, the CVU linemen and (some, not all) linebackers got physical with each other, as well as their counterparts from Mt. Mansfield. There were several aspects to the competition, including a bench press, but it was the one-on-one blocking drills to wrap up the night that grabbed most of the attention.
Neither school was a clear winner, as the players took turns going up against both teammates and rivals, but it was a lively competition that brought the best out of the CVU linemen, who are traditionally left out of things like 7-on-7 scrimmages.