By KEITH SPARKS
Instead of sleeping in and enjoying a relaxing summer vacation like many junior high and high school students will do over the next few months, some Panther football players will spend their summer on the football field playing seven-on-seven.
Shawn Lapuszynski, who is in his seventh year of coordinating seven-on-seven football in Liberty Hill, and a team of coaches work with Panther football players from the fourth-grade level all the way through the varsity level.
The goal of seven-on-seven, according to Lapuszynski, is to get the players acclimated with each other prior to football season in the fall, both on and off the field, while also refining their skills during the offseason.
“Really, the number one goal in this whole thing is getting the kids out there together and getting them to compete together,” he said. “That time they get together is huge. It’s so important.”
Seven-on-seven differs from typical 11-man football in that four linemen are removed from both the defense and the offense. The players don’t wear pads, and players are ruled “down” by one-handed contact from a defender. The defense can’t rush the passer, and a sack is recorded if the ball isn’t thrown before the four-second mark.
Even though linemen don’t exist in seven on seven, a number of Panther linemen play other positions in seven-on-seven over the summer in order to stay in shape and spend quality time with their teammates.
According to Lapuszynski, it’s clear which players were involved in seven-on-seven over the summer, as they typically become the “core” of the team come football season in the fall.
“This isn’t about just development,” Lapuszynski said. “This is about getting these kids out there together and building this competitive cohesiveness and that family environment. Whenever you get this group of kids out there, they become the core of that grade, and they grow. It’s amazing to see. The eighth-graders are staying after school and working out together. The 10th-graders are going in before and after school, and I love that. That’s my passion right there.”
For Liberty Hill football players, seven-on-seven is an even bigger change than it is for most, considering the fact that the Panthers have employed a run-heavy Slot T offense for more than 15 years. In seven-on-seven, there are absolutely no running plays.
According to Lapuszynski, that doesn’t make their offense any less effective. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.
“Believe it or not, our play-action Slot T stuff absolutely confounds people,” he said of the Panthers’ seven-on-seven offense.
Despite the fact that running plays aren’t allowed, the Panthers will often run routes out of the backfield, sending receivers in motion prior to the snap to make it more difficult for defenses to cover than a typical spread offense.
Although the high school’s coaching staff isn’t allowed to coach seven-on-seven due to UIL regulations, Lapuszynski and the rest of the seven-on-seven coaches coordinate with the high school staff to make sure their depth charts and offensive and defensive strategies are aligned as closely as possible.
At the elementary school and junior high levels, the Panthers play against teams from Burnet, Marble Falls, Lampasas, and Llano. At the high school level, Liberty Hill takes on Leander Glenn, Lago Vista, and Florence throughout the course of the four-week season.
The elementary and junior high teams began practice for seven-on-seven during the first week of April, and are currently a combined 5-0 after two weeks of games. The high school players had their first practice during the first week of May, and will start playing games on May 23.