Chemistry, competition and of course, skill development are among the common themes mentioned by football coaches as their teams get ready for New Canaan’s Grip It and Rip It 7-on-7 tournament this weekend.
This year’s tournament, which will be held Friday and Saturday, carries an additional element: Figuring out what teams have and what their rosters will look like after a season without football.
As Trumbull coach Marce Petroccio put it: “Everyone wants to know who’s who in the zoo.”
The Grip It and Rip It tournament is now in its 14th year in New Canaan, missing only the 2020 summer when the event was postponed due to the pandemic and then canceled altogether in the wake of Tropical Storm Isaias.
Approximately 30 teams, including a dozen from the FCIAC, are playing this season. Friday’s competition will feature pool play with an afternoon session starting at 1 p.m., and an evening session starting at 4:30 p.m.
Each team plays four games on Friday, and those results will determine seeding for a double-elimination bracket starting at 8 a.m., Saturday.
Games will be played on both Dunning Field and the Water Tower Turf Field, located next to New Canaan’s tennis courts.
High school coaches are not allowed to coach in the event per CIAC rules, but will have a chance to observe and evaluate their players for the upcoming fall season.
The size of this year’s tournament is a far cry from its first season in 2007.
“We started this with just four teams and it’s grown to what it is now,” New Canaan coach Lou Marinelli said. “You get a chance to see kids in competition and see what you have. It’s not (11-on-11) football, for sure, but it’s as close as you can get right now.”
The cancellation of the 2020 CIAC season has nearly wiped the slate clean for most teams, making this an across-the-boards rebuilding year.
“It’s like we’re starting all over again,” Marinelli said. “I have kids who are going to be sophomores whose names I don’t even know. I really feel like we’re starting all over again.”
“I don’t think anybody knows what they’ve got,” Petroccio said. “We haven’t played football in so long.”
Pat Miller, Norwalk’s first-year coach, said 7-on-7s offer a chance to see how the kids respond to competition.
“You do get a feel for how the kids run routes, catch the ball, and cover, but really it’s about getting the kids into a competitive situation,” Miller said. “That’s the hardest thing to duplicate. We get to compete against a team in a different color jersey and we can see how it comes together. Those are the things that form bonds and form chemistry.”
Jonathan Law coach Chris Haley said 7-on-7s offer quarterbacks a great chance to work on mechanics and to learn how they respond in competition.
“Obviously it is different not having a defensive end in your face as you’re trying to throw, but there is plenty to take away from these things,” Haley said. “You can see their ability to command a group of players and how they read a defense at the line.”
Coaches will also be watching how wide receivers run routes, react to defenses, and work with quarterbacks.
“The quarterbacks can get to know their receivers and they can run some of the passing game and get familiar with that,” Marinelli said. “And the receivers get an opportunity to play against different defenses and see different kids from all over the place.
Defensively, players get tested against different offensive styles and speeds.
“The velocity of the game can put a strain on defenses,” Haley said. “It forces kids to react and get set quickly. They need to communicate really well, just like they will in 11-on-11 games. Technique-wise, a back pedal is a back pedal in 7-on-7 or in real games, so what they are doing is not much different.”
“You do get better in 7-on-7s,” Petroccio said. “We know it’s not real football, but as far as throwing the football, running routes, defending people, breaking on the ball, and if you get beat, don’t put your head down, it’s a great way to evaluate.”
Petroccio also pointed out that the tournament is a bonding experience, and that chemistry can’t be coached.
“It’s got to happen on its own, and this tournament helps develop that chemistry,” Petroccio said.
In Norwalk, the competitiveness is already showing, as the players have been hungry to get on the field.
“It’s all they talk about. Sometimes, I have to say ‘Ok, guys, we’re lifting right now. Let’s make sure we get our bench press in,’” Miller said with a laugh. “But they really can’t wait. We’ve got a competitive bunch and they’ve been talking about it and asking a lot of questions. So they’re excited.”
— Scott Ericson contributed to this story