OTTAWA – The focus was more on team-building than touchdowns, walk-throughs than winning early Tuesday evening at the confluence of the Illinois and Fox rivers.
The Ottawa Pirates hosted the St. Bede Academy Bruins for a casual 7-on-7 behind the Ottawa High School football field.
“We missed all of this last summer,” Ottawa head coach Chad Gross said as players from both teams left the scrimmage in groups, almost to a man with smiles on their faces. “Unfortunately, we didn’t get to do any 7-on-7s, and it’s a nice environment for the kids to cheer on their teammates and for us to see who will make plays and who’s going to step up for us.
“There are a lot of spots that are open (for starting roles in the fall), so this is good experience and an opportunity for them to show who can make plays.”
While it was the first 7-on-7 this summer for the Pirates – and, as Gross mentioned, the team’s first since the summer of 2019 due to efforts to contain the novel coronavirus pandemic – St. Bede had just competed in a larger, more structured 7-on-7 event a few days earlier hosted by rival Princeton.
As such, the Bruins were focusing slightly more on fine-tuning than getting that first taste of outside competition.
“We had some things that we needed to clean up from Saturday over at Princeton,” SBA head coach Jim Eustice said, “and we got to work on those a little yesterday and this morning. We made some corrections, got kids in right spots, quarterbacks understanding more, and got a lot of young kids some reps. ...
“It was good, a lot of fun. The kids were out here competing, and that’s exciting given everything everyone’s been through these past 16, 17 months.”
Ottawa – with a proven, entrenched quarterback in Times All-Area performer Braiden Miller – used the majority of its 35-40 offensive snaps to help their southpaw signal-caller build a rapport with an almost entirely new crop of receivers.
The plan coming into Tuesday for the Bruins – who lost NewsTribune All-Area quarterback Braden Damerell to graduation after the COVID-abbreviated spring campaign – was to get a look at the three junior QBs aspiring for that starting role, namely Calym Setser, John Brady and Callan Huneburg.
There were some impressive flashes of skills on both sides of the scrimmage, which featured no linemen and pass-only playbooks, with teams taking turns running shifts of plays against the other’s defensive backs and linebackers.
“You don’t know what to expect with 7-on-7s,” said Gross. “It’s always interesting to see how the kids react competing against another school. We’ve been going against each other for a couple weeks, and that kind of gets old. So it was nice to see them get out there and compete against St. Bede.
“I won’t say either team won or lost, but there were a lot of good plays on both sides.”
Both the Pirates and Bruins will continue summer workouts until meeting again in 7-on-7 competition at a four-team event July 29 on the St. Bede campus. The other teams present will be Kewanee and Fieldcrest.
The IHSA’s start date for official football practices to begin is Aug. 9, with Week 1 contests scheduled to kick off Aug. 27.