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Passing Leagues: : Where Quarterbacks Are Born and Teams Learn Togetherness

July 18, 1985|BOB MUIR | Times Staff Writer

The games aren't exactly played in ideal football conditions. Even at 9 a.m., the temperature at Valley College is a sultry 85 degrees. There are just a handful of spectators, not a bouncy cheerleader in sight and no bands to fire up the teams.

But don't get the idea that the high school summer passing league games that span Southern California are meaningless exercises.

Far from it.

Summer passing leagues are where the quarterbacks of tomorrow are born.

"Our last four quarterbacks have received scholarships to Division I schools (major colleges)," said Muir Coach Jim Brownfield.

Many Surprises

And, according to Brownfield, not one of the four was a quarterback entering passing leagues. One, Mark Hatcher, was a soccer player whom Brownfield was thinking about using as a punter until he saw him throw a football.

The four--Hatcher, Richard Bell (Nebraska) Dee Dee Moore (Washington State) and James Burton (Oregon State)--developed into outstanding quarterbacks because of passing leagues, Brownfield contends.

Especially Hatcher.

A sophomore-to-be at the University of Colorado, Hatcher will battle for starting quarterback in the fall. The 19-year-old said he owes most of his success to Brownfield and the experience of playing in many passing league games.

"Passing leagues definitely help you," said Hatcher, who led the Mustangs to two Pacific League titles before graduating in 1984. "You get better and better each time you play. You gain more confidence by watching your receivers play and seeing how they run their patterns."

20,000 Passes

Born on a Carson summer practice field about 15 years ago, summer passing games have become a football institution in Southern California. Some high schools play 40 summer passing games, equivalent to about four football seasons. A quarterback can throw about 20,000 passes during the summer.

"It's valuable because it helps develop your quarterback," said Whittier Christian Coach Tom Caffrey. "It gives him like another season to practice his passing."

But to La Mirada Coach Ray Mooshagian, summer leagues mean more than just the development of a quarterback.

"We feel it is an integral part of our team," Mooshagian said. "You're getting a certain amount of togetherness and learning to play as a team."

The most popular of the summer passing programs is a tournament rather than a league--the L. A. Summer Games in late June. This year about 1,200 players from 64 teams in the CIF and City participated in the 18th Summer Games, won by Muir.

Loosely Structured

Most summer passing games and leagues are loosely structured. Played mostly during July and early August, the games are organized by coaches in their respective areas. Coaches usually also serve as officials and timekeepers.

Helmets, pads and contact are forbidden in the games, which are one-hand touch instead of tackle. Players usually wear jerseys, shorts and cleats.

Although no contact is allowed in the 7-against-7 competition, play is intense, but injuries are few. Sprains, jammed fingers and muscle pulls usually are the most serious injuries.

"We try to keep it low-key," said Caffrey, whose Whittier Christian team is two-time defending Inland Conference champion and winner of 20 consecutive games dating to the 1983 season.

Summer passing leagues are definitely for the those who love offense. Offenses line up with a center, quarterback, two halfbacks and three receivers. Most defenses are composed of three linebackers and four defensive backs.

No Pass Rush

No linemen, other than the center, are involved. Because of that, there is no pass rush. In order to simulate game pressure, quarterbacks are allowed 3.5 seconds to release the ball or it is considered a sack.

Games usually last one hour, with each team getting three downs to make a first down or score a touchdown. There are no kickoffs or punts and only a few running plays are permitted in most games.

These simulated-game laboratories allow coaches to experiment and discover players. This is the time when unknowns become starting players.

At Muir High of Pasadena, for example, Hatcher was a punter entering his junior year until Brownfield discovered his passing arm. This year, senior James Dunn, a backup receiver, probably will be Muir's signal caller. He threw five touchdown passes in Muir's first contest in the L. A Summer Games against Eagle Rock.

North Torrance receiver Joe Olson was also just another player trying to earn a place on the varsity several years ago until he blossomed in summer passing games. He became an All-Ocean League receiver in his senior year, with 38 receptions for a 20.8-yard average and eight touchdowns.

Just 'a Nobody'

"He was a nobody as a sophomore," says North Torrance Coach Steve Schmitz. "He may have never gotten noticed if it wasn't for the summer passing leagues. He came on to be a two-year starter."

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