Recreation

7-on-7 is good, safe introduction to football

Justis column: Games and leagues taking hold in Eastern Iowa

Youth 7-on-7 leagues are a good way to learn football fundamentals without the tackling. (Contributed photo)
Youth 7-on-7 leagues are a good way to learn football fundamentals without the tackling. (Contributed photo)
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Our family wasn’t the only one struggling with the decision on whether to allow a 10-year-old to begin his journey with tackle football.

After much thought, our daughter and her husband agreed to let our grandson begin playing a game we all love. After two years, everything has gone along smoothly.

There is an option out there, however. For those parents concerned about allowing their children to play tackle football at younger ages, there’s a program poised to grow in Eastern Iowa that can help alleviate fears of football-related injuries.

It’s 7-on-7 Football.

The game is popular throughout the rest of the country but it has been slow to develop in Iowa. It’s played without pads and there is no tackling or blocking allowed. Its purpose is to make football safe for all ages while teaching fundamentals and improving the ability of skill players.

“It’s not tackle, it’s not flag football,” said Richard Carter, one of the organizers for the development of the league. “It’s like what we did in college when I played. You work with the skill players. You concentrate on certain skills, learn the passing game and how to defend the passing game. It’s safer because it’s one-hand-touch football.”

A few teams have been formed in Iowa, but because the competition is so spread out, Trevor Bollers, a former University of Iowa football player, has dreamed of bringing more teams to the state.

With the support of Iowa City West, Clear Creek Amana and Cedar Rapids Jefferson high schools in 2018, he created the inaugural Playmaker Iowa Elite Tournament. But Bollers wanted to expand 7-on-7 to younger ages.

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Last year, he approached Carter, a former University of Northern Iowa player and current youth sports coach, about gathering some younger kids together for a tournament. The first person Carter called for help was his UNI quarterback, Tom Petrie. They were interested and formed a third/fourth grade team in Cedar Falls called The Savages.

“We got 14 kids together,” Carter said. “It was a blast. We played in three tournaments, two in Tiffin and one in Green Bay, Wisconsin.”

7v7 Football Inc. is recognized as a nonprofit. Other pioneering teams that have brought 7-on-7 to Iowa are Team Iowa and Level Up, which formed high school travel teams that compete across the nation. The Fire Dragons, Achievers and Savages started the youth club scene with multiple teams in each division.

The Metro Youth Football Association, a nonprofit organization located in Cedar Rapids, also offers passing leagues for fourth through seventh-graders among its other football divisions and age groups.

Seven-on-7 divisions are comprised of grades third/fourth, fifth/sixth, seventh/eighth and high school.

The aim for 2020 is to bring a state tournament to the Cedar Falls/Waterloo area and see other locations across eastern and central Iowa host events. The season runs May through August.

“The mission is to develop skilled players in the state of Iowa and to teach life skills in a loving, family environment,” Carter said. “We play against the kids we see in other sports. Our kids know each other because we see them at basketball and baseball tournaments.”

This year’s tentative schedule includes the Playmaker Spring Warm Up in Waterloo May 3, the Playmaker May Cannon Fight in Tiffin May 24 and the Playmaker Early Summer Inferno in Tiffin June 13-14. Durant will host the Playmaker Fireworks Blowout July 11-12, Tiffin also will host the Playmaker Iowa Elite July 18-19 and the state tournament will be held Aug. 1-2 in Oskaloosa. Organizers are trying to get teams from Chicago, Kansas City and Green Bay to attend, among other travel teams.

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Rules may vary slightly in specific tournaments. Each game lasts 25 minutes with a running clock. The field is 50 yards in length, including a 10-yard end zone. For third and fourth-graders, the field is decreased by 10 yards. The offense always starts on the 40-yard-line with the choice of the hash mark. Quarterbacks can never run the ball. A play ends after the four-second time limit to throw a pass has closed or when a player who has caught the ball is touched by one hand of a defending player. Teams are allowed to run the ball at any point in the game.

An organizational summit will be held in February for interested parents. For further information, email 7v7@iowa7v7football.com.

Our grandson will continue to play tackle ball. However, he also has joined a 7-on-7 team to improve his offensive skills.

Nancy Justis is a former competitive swimmer and college sports information director. She is a partner with Outlier Creative Communications. Let her know what you think at njustis@cfu.net

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