The last passing league tournament of summer makes way for the official start of football season

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The 2018 high school football season is a lot closer than the casual observer might think.

Fall training camps open as early as July 25 for some schools. The first regular season games are scheduled Aug. 17, with scrimmage games held the week prior to that.

In the meantime, seven-on-seven passing tournaments have heated up the summer as teams prepare to get into preseason mode.

The 2018 high school football season is a lot closer than the casual observer might think.

Fall training camps open as early as July 25 for some schools. The first regular season games are scheduled Aug. 17, with scrimmage games held the week prior to that.

In the meantime, seven-on-seven passing tournaments have heated up the summer as teams prepare to get into preseason mode.

The seven-on-seven format obviously highlights passing plays and passing defense.

“What we like about this is that it gives our kids a chance to compete,” Christian High School head coach Matt Oliver said. “It’s a chance to work on passing and also defending the pass. It’s a chance to build some teamwork and to play against somebody else.”

El Cajon Valley High School head coach Nick Osborn concurred with much of what Oliver noted.

“What I like about this is that it allows the boys to see competition,” Osborn said. “It’s not like a full game, but it’s fun. The big thing is to compete and at the same time have fun.”

Southwestern College hosted its 12th annual 24-team South County Passing Tournament this past weekend. Six East County teams participated in the two-day event: Christian, El Cajon Valley, El Capitan, Grossmont, Mountain Empire and Valhalla.

Each team played three back-to-back games of 45 minutes each in pool play the first day (Friday, July 6); teams returned for elimination bracket play on the second day (Saturday, July 7).

The Lincoln Hornets held off Torrey Pines, 33-28, to win the championship bracket title while Christian edged Bonita Vista, 32-25, to capture the consolation bracket title.

Christian, which kicks off regular season play Aug. 17 with a non-league game at El Capitan, posted a 5-2-1 record over the two days.

The Patriots finished 1-1-1 in pool play with a win over Otay Ranch, a tie against Olympian and a loss to Grossmont.

Christian, seeded 13th for bracket play, opened the second day with a l4-2 loss to 12th seeded Chula Vista, then proceeded to win the remainder of its games, racking up victories against Valhalla (39-18), Mar Vista (27-2) and Mater Dei Catholic (22-6) en route to topping seventh-seeded Bonita Vista in the consolation championship game.

Senior Owen Easley, who played primarily on last year’s junior varsity team, looked solid at the signal-calling position throughout the two days of competition under adverse weather conditions.

“I feel like I have a lot to prove to everyone that I deserve it,” said the six-foot-one, 200-pound Easley. “It’s a chance to get better, a lot of competition, a lot of learning and a lot of growing as a team.”

Senior tight end Bryce Riepl also performed well as one of Easley’s primary targets over the weekend.

Grossmont, braced by junior quarterback Jamie Odom, finished 3-0 in pool play with wins over Otay Ranch, Olympian and Christian. The Foothillers received the No. 6 seed for bracket play the following day and shut out San Ysidro, 42-0, to advance to the championship bracket.

Grossmont continued to click with a 43-27 win over 11th-seeded El Cajon Valley in its first playoff game but stalled with a 40-29 setback to third-seeded Torrey Pines in the quarterfinals.

The Foothillers, who host The Bishop’s School in a non-league game on Aug. 17 to kick off regular season play, finished the weekend with a 5-1 record.

El Cajon Valley finished 2-1 in pool play with victories against Mar Vista and Hoover and a loss to Lincoln. The Braves received the No. 11 seed for bracket play and defeated Eastlake’s junior varsity team, 21-2, to kick off the second day of competition.

However, the Braves failed to advance in the elimination playoffs with the loss to Grossmont to finish the tournament with a 3-2 record.

El Cajon Valley, which was led by senior quarterback Atlantas Eidujus last weekend, will kick off regular season play on Aug. 17 with a non-league home game against Francis Parker.

Osborn said the summer events act as a team bonding experience.

“We’ve got a lot of goals and one of them is to establish a culture here where everyone is accountable and treats everyone with respect,” the ECV coach said. “We want to develop a winning atmosphere but we also want to become better people.”

El Capitan finished 1-2 in pool play with losses to Torrey Pines and Bonita Vista and a win over East County rival Valhalla. The Vaqueros, seeded 17th for bracket play, lost their first game on the second day of competition to eighth-seeded Morse to drop to the consolation bracket.

El Capitan ended the weekend with a loss to Mater Dei Catholic in the consolation quarterfinals.

Valhalla lost all five games it played over the weekend, finishing 0-3 in pool play, dropping a 30-13 contest to second-seeded Sweetwater to open the second day and finishing up with its loss to Christian in the consolation playoffs.

The Norsemen kick off regular season play Aug. 17 with a non-league game at University City.

Mountain Empire also finished 0-3 in pool play. The Red Hawks, seeded 20th for bracket play, lost their first game on the second day, 29-8, to fifth-seeded Cathedral Catholic, then finished up the weekend with a 23-0 win over O’Farrell and a loss to Bonita Vista in the quarterfinals.

Mountain Empire kicks off regular season play Aug. 17 with a non-league game at Santana.

For many teams, last weekend’s event at SWC was their final offseason competition prior to the start of classes for schools on year-round schedules.

“This kind of signifies the end of summer — I think we’re one of the last seven-on-seven tournaments in San Diego,” Southwestern College head coach Ed Carberry said. 

The opening day featured temperatures topping the 100-degree mark; the second day was only slightly cooler.

“We had some unbelievably warm conditions, but everyone worked through it,” Carberry said.

Lincoln finished 7-0 to continue its mastery of the seven-on-seven format. The Hornets earned a $10,000 donation check for winning the second annual Tony Jefferson Battle of Champions event in early June at Eastlake High School.

“We think we have the most athletic guys in the county,” Lincoln junior quarterback Christopher Davila said. “We have great coaching staff.”

The Hornets finished 9-3 last season with a loss to Otay Ranch in the Division II quarterfinals. Davila moves in to fill some big shoes left by graduated signal-caller Asante Hartzog, a 5,000-yard career passer who is now a freshman at Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colo.

“It will be very challenging — I’ve got big shoes to fill,” Davila admitted. “But we have a lot of talent on the team. It should be good.”

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