TURNER — It looks like fun. Football players without pads, helmets or offensive and defensive lines, throwing a football around, just like you would see in a park or on a playground.

And the players in Leavitt Area High School’s 7-on-7 passing league won’t argue that. It is fun. But they’re quick to add that there’s a sense of work to it all as well.

“Definitely. Everyone’s trying to be known. This is a start to come out and see where we stand,” Cony senior receiver Eli Dutil said. “It’s not necessarily that you’re making the varsity team because you got invited to 7-on-7. But you’re still getting out here, improving, and trying to get looked at a little more.”

The league presents a unique juxtaposition between the two themes. On one hand, with players running around in T-shirts and shorts and no worry about getting drilled catching a ball over the middle, it’s easy to see them enjoying themselves.

But on the other, with coaches watching each play from behind the line of scrimmage, score being kept and a playoff awaiting at the end of the third and final day of play, it’s just as clear that the league is grooming the competitiveness and execution that will pay off for each of the 17 participating varsity teams in the fall.

“We’re here to sort of get things sorted out for this year,” Cony coach B.L. Lippert said. “We try to rotate and sub as often as we can, we don’t want to have kids come and waste their time on a Friday or Sunday night, but we’re trying to get better and we’re trying to figure out who improved over the long offseason.”

“We’re trying to have fun while we run our system,” Oak Hill coach Stacen Doucette said. “It’s not really about who you play, you’re really playing yourself. And what I mean by that is you’re trying to learn your plays, you’re trying to understand where to stand, and that doesn’t really matter who you play. You’re trying to educate your players.”

Though the league features linebackers, cornerbacks and safeties on the defensive side of the ball, the beneficiaries of the style play are clearly the offensive members, who get to work on their timing, route-running, throwing accuracy and hands without the worry of a pass rush, all while running both the tried-and-true plays out of their playbook and some newer ideas coaches want to try out.

“Everyone looks like a genius in February when you find stuff on the internet or you go to a coaching clinic, but once you come out here and try to run it with real people, sometimes it doesn’t look quite as good,” Lippert said. “So it’s also a learning experience for our coaching staff to go through and say ‘Jeez, that new route combination just isn’t as clear as we’d like it to be,’ or we might not have the personnel to run it.”

And even the plays that work have to be taken lightly.

“We use it as a learning tool for the players, so we expect them to be working to understand their position, learn their routes, learn the system and the concepts we’re going to be running in the fall. But it’s also July,” Skowhegan interim coach Ryan Libby said. “You can get a good look at players, but it’s not real until you put pads on in August.”

It’s only a snapshot of how well the players can play and play together, but for teams looking for key offensive role players, this can be a good place to start to find them. Cony and Skowhegan lost the quarterbacks operating their aerial attacks last year. Winthrop/Monmouth, Oak Hill and Maranacook lost their best playmakers. And 7-on-7 touch football is a head start on patching those holes.

“Absolutely. The guys that are here in July, putting this work in, show up to preseason ahead of the guys that aren’t, just in terms of knowledge,” Libby said. “There’s no doubt that the guys that have been to three Leavitt 7-on-7s and three Colby 7-on-7s are ahead. They’ve had more practice.”

It can also be an early opportunity for players to try new positions and responsibilities before needing to handle them in the games that count. Winthrop/Monmouth’s Cameron Gaghan played almost exclusively on defense last year, but he’ll be asked to be an offensive factor as well this season. So there Gaghan is during 7-on-7s, playing both sides, working on both his honed craft and his new one.

“It gets us out here and gets us learning the plays. Knowing who’s going to go where,” he said. “It helps us figure out who our playmakers are going to be this year. … It gets us going, gets us into it, gets us ready for the season.”

And for players, that’s perhaps the biggest gain. It may not look like real football, but in July, it’s close enough.

“Obviously, we’re looking to have some fun in the summer,” Dutil said. “The main focus is really just getting reps, not stopping the roll we have going. Football season is all year, not just in the fall.”

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @dbonifantMTM

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