116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — It looks like prep football. Sort of.
Kids are running pass routes out of multiple offensive formations. Defenses are yelling out signals to adjust to what they are seeing.
Someone makes a one-handed diving catch in the corner of the end zone, leading to a jumping, hip-bump celebration.
But no one is wearing helmets or pads, only shorts and T-shirts. There’s no tackling, and coaches actually are in the middle of the field observing and calling plays.
And the center is the only offensive lineman around.
Five schools have been convening Sunday nights this summer at Kingston Stadium for some 7-on-7 action against each other: Cedar Rapids Kennedy, Cedar Rapids Washington, Iowa City West, Waterloo West and Vinton-Shellsburg. This Sunday is the finale, in Iowa City.
It’s an informal as you can get, but there’s a purpose behind it.
“I tell you, it’s a good team atmosphere,” said Washington’s Watts McBride, who recently got a scholarship offer to play defensive back at Nebraska. “You get to work with your teammates in the summer. Just trying to build a culture for the team in the fall. Working on skills and stuff and becoming a better football player. (Learning) what the coaches are installing for our offense and defense. It’s about just learning more and getting ready for fall.”
Getting ready for the fall. That’s the biggest thing.
“We practice all week long, practice tomorrow morning at 6:30,” said Kennedy Coach Brian White. “There are things we saw today that we are going to practice, going to work on tomorrow to get better … It’s better to correct that in July than in September.
“You get to learn a lesson now without getting blown up. You get to talk to kids, you get to teach kids, and there is no pressure on you for ‘Man, we’ve got to get ready for Friday night.’ Because now we’ve got time.”
Football has become a year-around endeavor, even at the high school level. You’re lifting weights, you’re going out for the track and field team, you’re attending camps, you’re playing some 7-on-7.
There are plenty of 7-on-7 tournaments out there: regionally, nationally. But White and his four coaching cohorts here aren’t necessarily fans of those.
“We have first downs, we have game scenarios where you are first-and-10, you are second-and-3, you are trying to defend the goal line at the end of the game. We can make it more game-like and more controlled. We don’t really keep a score,” White said. “We just want to get reps against somebody else, that might run something different than us. Our kids are smart enough, their kids are smart enough, they know what they are going to see in practice, they know what we’re running. We come up in a certain formation, our kids know what is going to happen, they’re jumping stuff (defensively).
“Here, we get a better look out of seeing somebody different, that doesn’t know what we’re doing, and vice versa. Defensively, we get a better look out of somebody that I don’t know what they’re doing. Then you have to adjust. It’s not real football, but they’re going against someone else.”
Coaches can work with players all summer, technically from the day in June school gets out. This is just part of that work.
In prior years, Cedar Rapids Prairie would host a handful of schools each weekend for these workouts. It has been a Kingston thing for going on about five years.
Cedar Rapids Jefferson has been a regular participant, though it dropped out this summer due to a low number of participants. Linn-Mar has a new coaching staff and decided not to play.
Vinton-Shellsburg filled that spot. Sophomore teams do their thing at the same time as varsity, taking over the open grass field atop Kingston Stadium.
“We’re very grateful, because any time we can get out and compete, it’s a great thing,” said Vinton-Shellsburg Coach Jim Womochil. “I think the kids enjoy it. We stop to eat every time we come down here. We don’t have these luxuries in Vinton, Iowa.”
Womochil was asked what he wants his group to get out of participating.
“Passing game rhythm,” he said. “We use the R4 system, and it takes a long time before your quarterbacks and receivers get on the same page. So it’s just the rhythm of the passing game, just the knowledge of pass concepts, teaching that, getting a head start on that. Then probably the biggest benefit is just defensive concepts. We play three or four different coverages if we can. If we can introduce those (now), that’s great. It’s one thing to go against your own scout team, but to run it against competition (is better).”
The camaraderie between the coaches involved here is strong. Womochil used to be at Jefferson, so he knows White, Cedar Rapids Washington’s Mo Blue and their staffs.
Blue always has been tight with Waterloo West Coach Lonnie Moore. Iowa City West’s Garrett Hartwig is friendly with the group.
Nobody wants to beat the heck out of anyone, show up anyone. It’s all about getting better … and getting ready for what’s ahead.
“The weight room, stuff from just catching a football, the footwork drills, working on all that in the offseason, before you get into pads in August is important,” McBride said. “The best teams, the best players are going to be doing it all year around. You’ve got baseball, basketball track, whatever, but guys are still finding the time to get their football work in, too.”
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