High school football games are won and lost beginning in September, but the emphasis placed on practicing during the summer does much to set the stage.
The CIF allows only 15 days of organized practice but an unlimited amount of days for teams to participate in passing leagues – seven on seven with no pads, a quarterback allowed to hold the ball a limited time before throwing. Team against team, just like during the regular season.
Passing leagues have grown in importance and stature. The competition ranges from one team scheduling another, like a non-league game during the regular season, to tournaments where the winner of a game advances to the next round and the loser goes into a consolation bracket or is eliminated.
And the Elite Eight, a tournament by invitation only bringing together the best of the best, was held at Veterans Stadium in Long Beach two weeks ago.
Some coaches embrace passing leagues. Others downgrade their importance. There’s a wide difference of opinion.
“We participated in only a couple this summer and then scheduled some individual games,” said new Santa Monica High head coach Zach Cuda. “We treat them like a practice. We had 25 players and everyone played in every game.”
Although Samohi went 6-1 in the LA Watts, Games Cuda downplayed the results. He did, however, see some value in the Vikings’ participation.
“It was good for our receivers to get downfield and see that [quarterback] Ryan Katz has improved his accuracy at the longer distance,” said Cuda. “It helps the timing.”
Katz had a superb sophomore season and is considered a Division 1 prospect when he goes into college. But he’s young and is still developing his skills.”
In contrast to Samohi’s low key approach to passing leagues is Culver City’s heavy reliance on them. Culver City was extremely active this summer, defeating Ocean League champion Beverly Hills in the finals of its tournament, finishing second in another and drawing an invitation to the Elite Eight, where it defeated Mater Dei, 38-28, before losing to eventual champion Oaks Christian, 34-12.
Culver City’s Darius Banks, who will also be a junior this season, ranks with Katz as a Division 1 prospect. Culver City coach Tom Salter believes the passing league participation will speed Banks’ development and winning a game in the Elite Eight will bring respect.
“This is a big boost for our program to beat a team like Mater Dei, even in a passing tournament,” he said.
Even when Culver City lost to Oaks Christian it gained valuable experience.
“I need to work on my mechanics,” said Banks after he was outdueled by Jimmy Clausen, one of the nation’s premier high school quarterbacks who has committed to Notre Dame.
“This will make me work harder.”
Malibu High coach Ray Humphrey isn’t a big fan of passing leagues but does recognize their value.
“We have a sophomore quarterback, Dusty Kramer, and it’s important for him,” said Humphrey. “It does teach you some stuff, like seeing coverages.
“The problem is you can’t factor in the running game, so it’s not realistic.”
Humphrey says Malibu will play in about 25 passing league games this summer.
Passing leagues also have the value of keeping teams together in a competitive situation in the months when formal practices aren’t permitted. In August practice will begin for the real games that will start in September.