Getting a head start

Published 4:40 pm Thursday, July 14, 2011

Washington quarterback Jimmy Williams throws a pass during a seven-on-seven passing league exhibition tournament at J.H. Rose High School on Wednesday. (WDN Photos/Brian Haines)

GREENVILLE – Both Washington and Riverside entered Wednesday’s seven-team, seven-on-seven passing league exhibition tournament at J.H. Rose High School with their eyes keenly fixed on the quarterback.
Washington, which finished 6-6 and lost in the first round of the NCHSAA 3-A playoffs last season, was looking to see how junior quarterback Jimmy Williams was handling the offense’s transition from being an I formation offense to a spread attack. For Riverside, the offense is not in question but who will run it is. The Knights are in the midst of a summer-long process to see who will take over the signal-caller spot left vacant by the graduated Luke Mathews, a two-time WDN all-area first-teamer.
For the Pam Pack, the key word this summer has been progress.
“These guys are getting better. They are committed to coming to practice each day and getting better and better,” said Matt Burnett, who ran the offense while head coach Sport Sawyer is on vacation.
“At this point we’re really throwing a lot of stuff at them and these guy are really starting to understand and comprehend that this game is a little bit more than pitch and catch. “
With such a drastic change in offense, this summer’s passing league games are crucial to the development of the team.
“It’s huge, it’s huge,” Burnett said. “These guys have been to practice everyday and are really committed to learning this offense and it’s fun for them to come out and compete against other schools. It’s great that these guys can come out here and have some fun while they learn.”
The summer time has been extremely important to defensive coordinator Jon Blank and his unit as well. The Pam Pack defense lost a lot of players from last year’s squad, which means that there are a lot of new guys who need to learn the system and techniques as fast as possible.
“We have grown up a lot this summer but we are so young on the field. I only have three players (MLB Jaquez Columbus, Quashon Davis OLB, Pernell Razor SS) that had any playing experience from last year and none of them played in all the games,” Blank said. “So we are very young but we have learned a lot each time out. I think we have grown.”
The Pam Pack faced off against Riverside, North Pitt, Kinston, J.H. Rose, West Craven and D.H. Conley on Wednesday. While scores were unofficially kept, the true sign of victory for the coaches was seeing what they worked on in practice show up on the field.
“We want to see all the things we focused on in practice in the games,” Blank said. “We want to see our defensive backs stay on top of receivers, we want to see aggressive play when the ball is in the air and we want to see our linebackers react quickly to everything underneath. We’re looking at their footwork, we’re looking at their heads to see where they’re looking and we’re looking at all the finer points at this point in the offseason.”
Like the Washington staff, Riverside head coach Asim McGill is also looking to see improvement each time out. McGill’s Knights, which finished 10-3 last year, have routinely been one of the top passing teams in the area, and right now he is trying to figure out who will pull the trigger now that Mathews is gone.
“We have to try and find us a quarterback,” McGill said. “Our quarterback that was playing on JV transferred to North Pitt, so I think it’s great that our quarterbacks can come out here and get work with the skill guys.
“Right now we got Matt Wiseniewski and Ryan Wagner taking snaps at quarterback plus we have another kid who is a really good athlete in Ramelle Lanier who can play wherever you line him up at.”
McGill said what makes the passing league so beneficial is that it provides players with an opportunity to make a name for themself early.
“Seven-on-seven is great because you have some kids that miss games for all different reasons and you get a chance to see guys that might not normally get some reps,” McGill said.
While a lot of the focus during seven-on-seven is on offense, McGill’s eyes were also fixed on his defensive unit.
“I think defensively our kids are learning,” McGill said. “One thing about seven-on-seven is that we are going to do things that we are going to do on Friday night. A lot of teams do stuff that you would never see on Friday night, but we’re trying to do stuff that you will actually see in a game and I think so far they are picking it up pretty good.”