Answer to my wishes, really. BP and Walnut going at it twice under the lights in May! Thank you, thank you, thank you
And for you ‘Dena-area folks, here’s what St. Francis’ Jim Bonds, Muir’s Ken Howard and San Gabriel’s Jude Oliva think about it.
By Aram Tolegian, Staff Writer
Drive by Baldwin Park High School on a Friday night this May and you’re liable to think it’s October. The Braves football program will be one of precious few local teams taking advantage of their right to play passing games long before most teams do it in June or July. Thanks to the expiration of a CIF-Southern Section rule that limited football teams to 15 days of practice in May, the Braves and any other local program are well within their rights to get a big jump on the season by competing in passing games long before most other teams.
“You can choose to hang back and not go too hard now, but there’s other schools out there going as hard as they can,” Baldwin Park coach James Heggins said. “We like football, too, so we’re going to try and get a jump on the season. In the past, how many times did you get to work on pass protection in April and May?”
That jump will mean 11-on-11 games under the lights every Friday in May. Baldwin Park already has a home-and-away scheduled with Walnut. But don’t stop by thinking you’re going to see real hitting; the players will be in T-shirts and shorts and there will be very limited contact. The rest of it, though, will be as close to a regular-season game night as possible … minus the band and cheerleaders, of course.
“It won’t be padded, but when the other team shows up it will be intense and our big guys will be involved,” Heggins said. “It’s basically going to be a passing game with our
linemen out there. But it’s also going to be a dry run with our preparation time and walk-throughs. We’re going to follow the same game-day schedule we would as a team for a normal Friday night game.”
The linemen will be allowed to go hard for the first two steps. The games will allow coaches to get a gauge on pass protection and coverage schemes. Just don’t expect much in the way of a running game. Without continual contact or the right to tackle the ball carrier, there’s really no point. But for a team like Baldwin Park that will be looking to break in a new quarterback next fall, the experience is priceless, according to Heggins.
“I think you have to get the work in, if you can,” Heggins said. “Other schools are doing it, so if you’re not doing it, you’re falling behind.”
Although spring passing games have caught on pretty well in places like the Inland Empire and other areas of the Southland, the Valley appears to be a little bit behind the times. And that’s by choice at a school like Diamond Ranch, which is in no rush to join the fray.
“It’s a lot like playing the game over-the-line in baseball,” Diamond Ranch coach Roddy Layton said. “It’s fun.
“It’s competitive. But it’s not real baseball. Over-the-line isn’t baseball just like passing league isn’t football.”
Part of the problem for Layton is many of his players are involved in either baseball or track at this time of year. Another issue is the chance that throwing the ball around now against real competition might lead to burnout for his players by the time fall practice rolls around.
“It’s great it’s there, but our emphasis right now is to get in the weight room,” Layton said. “Right now, if a kid of mine isn’t playing baseball or running track he’s in the weight room. Come June, we want to go out there and be in the passing leagues. But right now and in April, we’re in the weight room.”
For Heggins, who graduated from Baldwin Park in 1993 and played at Mt. SAC and San Diego State, the opportunity to have competitive passing games long before summer is a sign of the ever-changing times in high school football.
“It’s definitely different now,” Heggins said. “You didn’t used to see guys all summer and you were happy when they showed up for hell week. There was a time when guys used to come right off their couches for the first day of hell week. You didn’t see them all summer. Now with all the plyometrics and agility and passing leagues, you’ve got stuff going on all spring and summer.”
Keeping players healthy also will be a major priority for coaches who often spend much of their time during summer passing games trying to keep tempers from flaring. But it’s not just unwanted contact that worries Layton about passing games in spring.
His concerns stretch into the overlap of mechanics and techniques those who play multiple sports would be asked to handle.
“Take a kid like (quarterback) Rio Ruiz at Bishop Amat,” Layton said. “Are you going to take him from baseball and throw him in football? Would that be good for that kid’s arm?”
At Baldwin Park, though, Heggins is trying to turn not having some of his key athletes who are involved with other sports into a positive.
“I never worry about being at full strength for these things,” Heggins said. “Just think about how valuable it will be for a second-team guy. It’s going to make the team that much better for the guys who can be there while your main guys are in other sports. It’s going to be invaluable to them down the road. I think everybody wins.”