Challenges. Competition. Camaraderie.
But most of all — a fun way to get better.
That was the message players shared participating at Union High School’s inaugural Rumble at the River — a high school football 7-on-7 tournament Saturday. It featured local and out-of-area teams in one of the final organized events for many ahead of the first day of the first official high school practices in mid-August.
This 7-on-7 event isn’t traditional football; it’s an all-passing, non-contact way to play with seven players — minus linemen — on each side. Games are 20 minutes, starting at each team’s 40-yard line.
So, where are the linemen?
While their skill-position teammates had games Saturday, linemen had challenges.
Coaches say lineman challenges have increased in popularity within 7-on-7 tournaments to offer an outlet for non-skill-position players to foster competition and unity.
At Union, linemen went through a series of strength-related exercises to earn points, including tire flipping, fireman carry, sled push, a bench-press competition and tug-of-war.
The concept? Working together.
When asked how he and his teammates got better Saturday, Ridgefield senior Matt Kinswa said it came down to teamwork. He said the linemen’s bench-press competition is where camaraderie shined.
“It just brought up the whole team,” he said.
Adam Youkon, an incoming junior at Heritage, praised his teammates’ work ethic. He’s part of an all-junior starting offensive line for the Timberwolves. His favorite challenge was the 50-yard sled relay pushing a five-man blocking sled because it pushed them to the limit as a unit.
“Everyone gets accounted for in that situation,” Youkon said. “We all have to do it together.
“It’s a great way to get better.”
Teams in the 7-on-7 competition played a round-robin schedule in the morning, followed by a championship format in the afternoon. Winners received a coveted boxing championship belt as a souvenir.
But more importantly, the takeaway from Saturday is more than just a prize.
The pandemic’s impact on high school sports in 2020-21 meant condensed seasons, extra safety protocols and even playing in empty stadiums. The Washington Interscholastic Activities Association pushed the start of football to February and March, making for a quicker-than-normal turnaround to prepare for the 2021 fall season. Fall practices begin Aug. 18.
Kelso was a late entry to Saturday’s showcase, but head coach Steve Amrine was grateful for the Hilanders to get another opportunity to compete to close out July. The Hilanders brought 13 players to the event that featured teams as far away as Moses Lake and Hermiston (Ore.).
Kelso got to face five different offenses Saturday — and getting repetitions while facing other teams is a win-win, Amrine said.
“And the beauty for us is you get to see really good athletes,” the coach said. “Every team out here has guys, and the speed of the game is really good for us.”