Several area high school football teams saw something Tuesday they aren’t used to.
The Aynor Blue Jackets were passing the football instead of running. Of course, that was exactly the point during the Conway High School’s inaugural passing league.
“We don’t throw the ball much,” Blue Jackets coach Jody Jenerette said. “We’re going to throw more than we did last year because we got a quarterback coming back from last year. We’re not going to make a living doing this, I can promise you.”
The Blue Jackets weren’t the only ones slinging the ball around the field. The host Tigers were there along with North Myrtle Beach and Socastee.
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“At the end of the day, the kids love it,” Conway coach Chuck Jordan said of passing leagues. “They love coming out and competing. I think that is always important. Some ways you develop bad habits, but on the other hand you got kids that are active, breaking on the ball on defense and running and catching balls on offense.”
Passing leagues – a 7-on-7 format pitting an offense’s quarterback, running backs, receivers and tight end against a defense’s linebackers, cornerbacks and safeties – have taken place along the Grand Strand for 20 years, Jordan said. Each team had 10 minutes on offense and defense.
“It’s good for our defense,” Jenerette said. “The biggest thing is that it is a way to get our kids out and competing. I’m glad coach Jordan does this. We only have to drive 10 miles to get better and that makes a big difference for us.”
Aynor returning starting running back/quarterback Hunter Windham said the league should benefit the Blue Jackets’ run-first offense in addition to challenging their defense against bigger schools.
“You always have to be able to pass,” Windham said. “You have to set stuff up and be able to go play-action and come out and surprise people. You have to have it in your arsenal. It really helps [our defense] competing against Conway, North Myrtle Beach and Socastee, who are used to passing, compared to our offense, which is pass second. It acclimates us to the speed of the passing game.”
The passing league presents a unique opportunity for players outside the trenches.
It allows offenses to execute without pressure from rushing linemen, giving quarterbacks the time to read the coverages they see. Also, it allows teams to get reps for the second and third string.
Meanwhile, the defenses are able to work on coverage responsibilities and installing more coverages for the year.
“This is good for us,” said Socastee coach Tim Renfrow, whose team primarily runs an option offense. “We don’t see much of this in practice because of what we do on offense. It helps us tremendously defensively because we are going to face teams that do it. Offensively, it gives us some time to work on some things when throwing the ball.”
Renfrow’s son Hunter, who became the Braves’ starting quarterback near the end of last year, said he’s already seeing improvement.
“It is exposing it to us more,” Hunter said of passing. “It’s helping us just seeing other opponents. It is giving me more experience definitely and is allowing me to learn the offense more.”
Conway, meanwhile, was missing a key piece Tuesday. Star quarterback Mykal Moody is recovering from a broken clavicle and didn’t compete. He saw advantages for his teammates, and felt it was a great opportunity for backup Ethan Smith to get reps.
Still, it was tough sitting on the sidelines.
“It hurts,” Moody said of not being able to participate. “I know it’s better for the backup to get some reps, but I really wanted to be out there with them. This helps a lot for the team chemistry and everything. You can get down some plays and your personnel.”
Perry Woolbright’s North Myrtle Beach squad hopes the passing leagues will help it break into the win column. The Chiefs head into the season having not won a game the past two seasons. Woolbright sees the passing leagues as just another avenue in which his team can improve.
“I think this really benefits us,” Woolbright said. “It lets us compete against other teams and get our kids out and executing. The way coach Jordan set this up, its not like going to big tournaments where it is scoring, scoring, scoring. You can coach your players up and it’s more like a practice here for us.
“They see themselves getting better out here. So far [Tuesday], it has been one of our better times out. It gives them some confidence in themselves.”