CLIFTON — High school football season is almost here, and no tradition makes that more evident than Central’s annual 7-on-7 and Offensive Linemen Challenge.

For the 10th straight year, teams from all over the state converged in Clifton on Saturday to participate in a communal day of practice and preparation for the upcoming season.

“It’s really been great that we get this kind of support from other teams. I think we’re building momentum,” said Comets head coach Brian Spooner. “I think next year we’re going to push it even further. We had 20 teams this year, but two had to drop out. We’d like to go up to maybe 24 next year.

“We have the facilities and the size to do it and I think people like the format,” he continued. “It’s a good day to come out here, get a lot of practice in and do some evaluation to learn what your kids are capable of doing.”

The guest list ultimately included 18 schools for the 7-on-7 Challenge’s 10th birthday. Bishop McNamara, Manteno, Herscher, Reed-Custer, Iroquois West, Momence, Watseka joined Central for a chance to square off in drills against teams from across Illinois and Indiana.

In addition to the 7-on-7 drills, the event also features a skills competition for offensive and defensive linemen.

“There’s always a lot of people following the linemen around, too,” Spooner said. “You get just that many more kids competing and the linemen don’t usually get to do as many things during summer sessions that are traditionally considered as fun as the skill guys and this gives them an opportunity, too.”

Competition is the most important theme across the board for participating coaches. They unanimously mentioned the benefits that come from going up against someone other than the same teammates a player sees at every practice.

“It’s nice to get here and see where we stack up against the other guys,” said Reed-Custer head coach Gavin Johnson. “It gets a little repetitive going up against our own guys over and over again and there’s a lot of install. We do a lot of different things offensively and defensively that take up tedious time in practice, so its good to get out here.”

Momence head coach Wayne Walker had similar feelings about the day’s proceedings.

“The advantage is all about seeing different personnel than what we have in our practices,” he said. “The competition is different than what we see every day and sometimes the kids get overly used to seeing the same thing at each and every practice.

“Getting the chance to come out and see schools that are similar to us in size that we wouldn’t see otherwise is a huge opportunity for us,” he added. “It’s great to be able to see what they do and what they’re best at so we can figure out what we need to do so we can get better and meet their skill level.”

Manteno head coach RJ Haines has been bringing teams to the 7-on-7 for years and has witnessed firsthand the growth of the event over the past decade.

“It’s been great. We’re one of the original teams that has been coming here for years and back when I coached at Iroquois West we came here, too,” he said. “They do a nice job with it and they get good competition and a good amount of teams out here. The facilities are really good and nice and spread out, so it always works out really well.”

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