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Passing contests give Comets players head start on football season

Many fans aren’t thinking about the upcoming high school football season. After all, it’s more than three months away.

It’s just the opposite, however, for Halifax County High School Head Football Coach Michael Roark and his players.

With about two dozen players having graduated from last season’s team, Roark and his coaching staff are attempting to get a jump start on the coming season by having their players compete in seven-on-seven passing contests.

Roark started having his players compete in the seven-on-seven contests - no-contact games that pit an offensive unit’s quarterback, running backs and receivers against the opposing team’s linebackers and defensive secondary players - a little over three weeks ago.

Through Saturday’s competition here against Bluestone High School, the Comets have participated in four sessions totaling eight games. It has all been good, Roark said, noting that he is grooming a number of young players for the start of the coming season.

“We got a lot better today,” Roark pointed out after Saturday’s competition.

“We started getting our (pass) routes crisper. We started making better reads on defense. The more you rep it the easier it becomes.”

Jacob Garrett got the most throws at quarterback and is going to be one of the candidates for the quarterback job this fall.

“Today is the best Jacob has done with his reads, and the best we’ve done receiver-wise,” Roark pointed out.

“We’ll go another week and then add a few more pieces to the puzzle.” 

Roark says seven-on-seven contests are a valuable teaching tool for him and his coaching staff and a valuable learning experience for the players.

“Anytime you’re playing or practicing against anybody that is not your own team it’s better because you’re playing at a lot faster speed,” the Comets coach pointed out. “We have a bunch of young kids, and they have to see the speed. When you face somebody else, you have helmets on and people are more aggressive. It’s one thing to do it working with cones on a field. It’s another thing when you do it knowing you might get some contact.”

One of the positive aspects of the seven-on-seven competitions is that every player gets plenty of opportunities to participate and learn.

“You give lots of kids a good number of reps,” Roark noted.

“There is no pressure, so we can give every kid that shows up all kinds of reps. The kids get better from it. It’s a little more laid back coaching-wise. It’s a win-win situation.”

Progress through the course of the series of seven-on-seven contests has been good, Roark said.

“The kids we had here today are averaging 85 to 90 percent attendance in the weight room and are coming to everything we do,” Roark pointed out.

“There is some aggression out there. We’re competing. It’s nice to see these kids out there battling the way they are. They’re joking with each other, and, at the same time, they are encouraging each other. They’re doing fine.”

Not only are the seven-on-seven competitions a good teaching and learning tool, it is a fun competition that helps break up the normal routine of weightlifting and workouts.

“It’s something else other than the weight room,” Roark explained.

“You get the kids in there busting their butts for an hour and a half a day three or four days a week in the weight room and that’s nice. But, they want to throw a football around some too.”

With off-season workouts now being allowed under Virginia High School League rules, Roark and coaches at all Virginia high schools have the opportunity to get a lot of work done with their players before the official start of football practice on August 1.

For most, if not all of the coaches, the installation of their offensive and defensive plays is complete by the time football practice officially opens.

“We’ve got five passing concepts, and we have three in now,” he said.

“By August 1, we’ll have all five in. We will have four run concepts this year, and by August 1, we will have all four of them installed.

“We work on the installs all summer,” Roark explained.

“We also work on lifting and conditioning all summer. Come the first day of August, there is no more installation of offense and defense. At that time, our offense is in and our defense is in. The players show up for the first three days of official practice for conditioning or acclimation, and we’re already acclimated. They’ve been out here running, lifting and conditioning in June and July.

“If someone tries to show up in August and play, they are six months behind,” Roark continued.

“The two-a-days (two-a-day practices), where you have to have an offensive install and a defensive install the same day, is pretty much gone now because we’ve got most of our stuff in already. That means we can fine-tune and go ahead and get things dialed in.”