Adjusting to a new kind of football

Blocking and tackling are out, but the fun of the game remains

By Lauren Read

Observer correspondent

Last season, Champlain Valley Union High School football player Isaac Bergeron would line up on the line of scrimmage, ready to clear space for a running back. This year, Bergeron will get to show off a different set of skills.

“I’ve got a 240-pound lineman that can throw the football 40 or 50 yards on a dime and into his receiver’s hands,” said CVU coach Rahn Fleming. “He will play quarterback. We will find series in which we can put Isaac Bergeron in at quarterback.”

Revelations like the one about Bergeron’s throwing arm are one of the positive notes in a very different high school football season. 

“It’s a new and different kind of challenge,” Fleming said. “Watching those guys buckle their chin straps and go out and execute and play football together is a silver lining all by itself.”

Due to COVID-19, the State of Vermont decided full contact football would not be played this fall. The Vermont Principals’ Association pivoted to a plan for 7-vs-7 touch football, with coaching staff and players quickly changing up plans for the 2020 fall season. 

“I think that we set a tone early that said ‘whatever it is, we’re gonna get after it,’” said Fleming. “Our guys bought in.”

The switch to 7-vs-7 comes with a whole new set of rules for the players and coaches to adjust to. The games will be pass only, no running plays, with the quarterback having four seconds to release the ball. Other rules include: 

— For every possession, the ball will start on the 30-yard line 

— No blocking or tackling

— A player will be considered down when touched by one or both hands

— Kick-offs are allowed, but regardless of where the ball lands, the next possession begins on the 30-yard line

— Linemen and receivers/backs will rotate quarters so that each position gets time on the field

“We moved quickly into acceptance and, frankly, gratitude because really the other option was no football at all,” Fleming said. “When you have the option of ‘you don’t get to play at all’ or ‘you get the play this way,’ we choose this way.”

The team has spent the last two weeks getting used to the new reality and discovering new talents. There are roughly 80 athletes playing football this season, between the varsity and JV squads.

“I love the kids and one of the reasons for that is just this willingness to adapt and just kind of look up and say, ‘OK, that’s not what I wanted, but what’s next,’” the second-year head coach said. 

While it won’t look the same, Fleming said one of the things he and his coaching staff are working hard to ensure is that the season is fun and that the players get to enjoy the time they have out there. 

“My prediction for the season is fun,” Fleming said. “I sincerely believe that this group of guys is going to go out there and they’re going to execute what we’ve been practicing these few weeks now, and they’re going to have a blast doing it.”

CVU will travel to Colchester on Tuesday at 6 p.m. to open the season and give everyone a look at a very different football game. 

“I’m really glad to get to go to Colchester and have our first genuinely competitive, full-tilt, one-hand-touch, 7-on-7, exclusively passing football game of 2020,” Fleming said.