High school football championship trophies are hoisted in the crisp fall air, but the foundation for success is built in the blazing heat of summer.
Daily workouts and weekly 7-on-7 tournaments have become the norm during the summer, helping teams hit the ground running when official practices begin in August.
“Summer is no longer the time for rest and relaxation,” Bluffton High School coach John Houpt said. “It’s the time to strengthen the mind and body and prepare all the returners for their roles in the upcoming season.”
Houpt’s Bobcats hit the weight room four days a week but also scheduled up to two 7-on-7 matchups per week this summer, as well as competing in the USA Football 7-on-7 last week in Rock Hill.
“With how advanced offenses and defenses are these days, you need more time to prepare these student-athletes’ minds and bodies for the challenge,” Houpt said. “When I first started coaching it was only weights and conditioning, and that was just 17 years ago. Now if you don’t do 7-on-7 you are about two months behind every other school.”
May River High School coach Rodney Summers knows that all too well. Summers said his team is “light years ahead” of where it was last year at this time, when the Sharks were unable to participate in summer programs because the new school’s facilities were still under construction.
Some coaches put more emphasis on weight training and conditioning than others.
“I’ve always thought 7-on-7 against opponents is necessary, but I don’t put a lot of weight on it as far as how successful a season you will have or how good the opponents you play will be,” Beaufort High School coach Mark Clifford said. “Football is still a contact sport. The weight room is where you win.”
That philosophy matches Clifford’s coaching style, which is a more traditional approach, particularly on offense. The Eagles rely on controlling the line of scrimmage and running the ball, which are not a factor in 7-on-7 competition.
Teams that run spread offenses, on the other hand, have much to gain by maximizing the number of reps between quarterbacks and receivers at game speed.
Summer conditioning also is critical to preparing to play in the heat and humidity players will face early in the season.
“Playing in this part of the Lowcountry,” Houpt said, “we have to do a great job of helping our players’ bodies get acclimated to the heat and humidity during the summer so that when the season begins it’s not a shock to their body and putting their health at risk.”
The other goal that summer workouts achieve is fostering a sense of family among a team and helping coaches sort out preliminary depth charts and determine which players will take on leadership roles.
“After the summer is over we will evaluate our personnel and the nucleus of our team based on the spring and summer and determine who is committed and who are our leaders,” Clifford said. “The evaluation will definitely tell us who we can depend on. Hopefully our most productive players will be our most committed players.”