By Hayley Tafuro
NEW CANAAN—I like to describe football as my favorite sport that I have never played. I am an avid fan of everything about the game, from the bullet-like speed of a perfectly thrown spiral to the hits so hard you can hear the tackle from a mile away.
As I headed to attend my first-ever high school 7 on 7 tournament on Friday, I have to admit that I was a bit wary and unsure of what type of play to expect. After all, what can you really see in 25 minutes of running time on a 45-yard playing field with no tackling?
I was pleasantly surprised by the answer.
Amid the all-around enjoyable atmosphere at New Canaan High School’s athletic complex, supplemented by a perfect summer day, were 40 energized high school teams spanning from the FCIAC to as far away as Canada that came to compete in the Grip It & Rip It Tournament.
There weren’t any standings on the line that afternoon, and no championships. The only incentive was a trip for the winning team to 7 on 7 Nationals in Hoover, Ala. Yet these teams came out with just as much heart and intensity as I would have seen during a regular-season game.
There were two particular moments that stuck out for me as I traveled from field to field and watched teams familiar and foreign to me battle it out with helmets as their only form of protective gear.
The first of these was during a match-up between Norwalk High School and Middletown, N.Y. Both teams were making exceptional defensive plays, and the score stayed pretty close throughout the 25-minute time frame. A Norwalk player made a block, a penalty according to 7 on 7 rules, and the referees did not make a call. Well, I guess some could make the argument that it’s not really that serious of a game, why not let it slide and move on?
The Middletown coach would not have that as he ran down the sideline yelling, “That’s a 10-yard loss, ref.” Needless to say, the call was made on a late whistle.
That’s when I knew the coaches saw this as more than just some two-day tournament.
The next moment occurred in one of the last games that I attended for the day, when Trumbull and New London faced each other in a nail-biter on Dunning Field.
Being fortunate enough to watch from the edge of the turf, I was able to hear some of the conversations taking place on the sidelines and on the field.
It was intense out there. Guys got in their harmless smack talk, trying to get in each other’s heads a little bit, and were also out there yelling to pump their teammates up after they made a good play.
However, more important were the conversations taking place between the coaches and the players. Coaches pulled players aside for teaching moments, while focusing in on the little things, the types of things that there normally wouldn’t be time to mention during, say, a regular season game, and players were listening and responding to the feedback.
That’s when I knew that the players saw this as more than some two-day tournament.
“It’s a lot of fun for them,” Trumbull Head Coach Bob Maffei said. “It’s sort of like playing football, and they’re becoming a team, that’s the main thing.”
“Fun” may have been one of the goals that the New Canaan football team was trying to achieve through hosting this tournament, and that goal was definitely met, but what it also provided was an opportunity for teams to play some competitive games in a version of football that can be broken down in a way that can’t be done during the fall season.
Playing on the smaller field encouraged better judgment from receivers in terms of movement, getting open and running their routes. The quarterbacks got practice in making quick decisions and improving their placement of passes. Overall, the way that I saw the 7 on 7 game was that it is designed in a way that calls for even more attention to capitalization, accuracy and good decisions.
“You get to play a lot of kids and see what they can do in sort of a game-like situation. I’ve seen some positive things,” Maffei said.
My experience with 7 on 7 football was much more exciting than I imagined it would be, and looking back at it, it’s no wonder why it has grown in popularity over the years. I was impressed with how the day was organized, and I was also happy to see that it could serve multiple purposes for all of the teams involved, whether they just wanted a good time, or a chance to work on the fundamentals of the game.
It also gave those of us in the crowd a small preview of what is to come, particularly for the teams in the FCIAC, and kind of threw football back on the radar, as it is coming up faster than we think.
Let me tell you, I couldn’t be more excited for the start of this upcoming season.