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Prep football: Playing catch-up

Headed into first year of 11-man, SCCS focuses on new offense

Posted: August 21, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: August 21, 2011 1:55 a.m.

SCCS guard Danny Blake, left, runs ahead to block for running back Derek Lewis, right, while head coach Garrick Moss looks on during a practice at The Master’s College on Friday. The Cardinals are still adjusting from 8-man to 11-man football.

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Three players. 20 yards in length. 13 yards in width.

Numerically speaking, that’s the difference between the 8-man football Santa Clarita Christian School found much success in over the past ten years, and the 11-man game it will play for the first time this season.

In football terms, though, the differences are much, much more.

On a new practice field at The Master’s College, the Cardinals, led by junior quarterback Conner Harvey and senior wide receiver Chris Fechtelkotter, are preparing for a sport that some of them haven’t played in four years.

“There’s three more guys on the field, six total (on offense and defense) and I think that’s a huge difference,” Fechtelkotter said. “Such a big change to see so many more guys on the field ... It’s a different atmosphere.”

The differences don’t stop there though, as the changes in the way 11-man football is played have forced the team to focus on different aspects of the game compared with past seasons.

“We focused on more the mental side of the game, instead of physical,” Harvey said. “We haven’t been able to condition as much, but we just practice, and practice and memorize our plays. Last year, it was more just conditioning a lot and just running the ball for hours.”

In 8-man football, defenses are at a decided disadvantage. With more open space on the field, stopping a high-powered offense can be cumbersome.

As a result, the Cardinals were able to exploit those disadvantages with a run-heavy offense that led them to back-to-back CIF titles in 2008 and 2009.

With that 8-man success now a thing of the past, SCCS has been focusing in preseason camp on opening up the passing game on offense, and studying zone coverage on defense.

“With the skill of the players we have coming back, we feel we want to spread the ball a little more. We want to throw the ball. We want to spread the ball, which is a whole new thing for our school,” head coach Garrick Moss said.

While so far in practice the Cardinals have kept the single-wing formation that helped make a name for them in 8-man football, SCCS has been working on adding that spread attack to its arsenal this summer.

“We’re excited,” Moss said. “We’re spending a lot more time focused on the offense. And the defense, more of the scheming packages, plays. Really trying to study offenses that will work against zone coverage and offensive sets versus 8-man where there is not a lot of coverage; where you can run any kind of offense you want.”

In an attempt to speed up the learning curve for his team, Moss took the Cardinals to summer passing league tournaments.

“We’re going to keep that single wing (formation) and we feel it can still be really effective,” Moss said. “We’re excited, so that part of it is similar, but the spread (offense) is a whole new package and that’s why we went to a whole lot more passing leagues this summer than we’ve ever had.”

Surprisingly, one thing that has helped the Cardinals adjust during camp is youth.

“We have a lot more of those younger guys who played Pop Warner most of their lives,” Fechtelkotter said. “They really know the (11-man) game, they know what they’re doing.”

Because of that experience, those younger players may have a mental advantage over some of the older kids on the team.
“They’re actually coming a year out of 11-man, where some of the juniors and seniors, it’s been three, four years,” Moss said. Where they might lack in their size, speed, maturity, they might make up for in the mental part of the game.”

As the end of preseason camp nears, the Cardinals are happy with the strides they’re making toward learning the 11-man game.

“We’re happy with where it’s coming,” Moss said. “We have a lot of work to do. We’re getting the guys ready, but we’re ahead of where we expected. We’re pleased with where we’re at.”

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