Tiger Sharks take summer heat in stride

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For years, football teams have used the month of June for 7-on-7 passing competitions, and the Port St. Joe Tiger Sharks are no exception.

“We try to get a 7x7 contest at least once a week,” said Tiger Shark head coach Tanner Jones. “But we’ve had a bunch (of teams) cancel already, (most recently) Liberty County because of the heat” on Thursday, June 23.

In dealing with the recent high heat indexes, “I’ve been impressed with our guys. We’re trying to make sure they get water, and not go too long,” said Jones. 

“We’re trying to keep it fun and make sure they get plenty of rest. We’ve rotated a lot of our younger guys. I’m very excited about our ninth and 10th grade group. We’ve also had lightning delays, kids going to camp, vacations, and kids working.” 

In spite of these normal issues, “we’re probably averaging about 50 kids right now,” after starting the summer with nearly 70 players.

After a successful outing against Wakulla on Monday, June 20, the Sharks traveled to Vernon on Thursday, June 30 to compete against Liberty County, Holmes County, Rutherford, Vernon, and “some school out of Georgia,” said Jones.

During a 7-on-7 affair, Jones is more concerned with his players getting as many repetitions as possible rather than with quick scores, unlike his regular season “be the storm” philosophy of scoring early and often.

Having no interior linemen other than the center on the field, a 7-on-7 affair does have a play clock and a 3-4 second time limit for the passer to get the ball off after the snap.

Starting at the 40 yard line, a team must travel 20 yards in four plays for a first down, but then is

required to score during the next four plays or turn the ball over to the defense.

Following a score, teams can go for one point from the five or two points from the 10. The defense gets a point for a stop, and three points for an interception.

“Sometimes, depending on the game, you’re better off to go four and out rather than forcing something and (throwing) an interception,” said Jones.

There are no running plays allowed, but the quarterback can throw a swing pass to a back or a bubble screen to a receiver. No downfield blocking is allowed, and a play ends after a one-hand touch.

At the jamboree in Vernon, there were a few changes in the format. A team’s offense started with 10 plays from the 40 yard line, followed by 10 defensive plays.

In the next sequence, the offense ran 10 plays from the 20 yard line, followed by 10 defensive plays.

Finally, the offense got five plays from the 10-yard line and five defensive plays.

This allowed each team to have 25 repetitions for both the offense and the defense.

With so many St. Joe players lining up both offensively and defensively, “after seven snaps on offense, we’ll take that group out and bring another group in to give the starters a few minutes to catch their breath before going back on defense,” said Jones.

Replacing quarterback Colin Amison is Devin Cuttino. And “7-on-7’s are great for him,” said Jones.

“We’re starting to see him throwing a little bit tighter window (and) his arm strength is getting better.”

At Vernon, Jones said he just wanted to “get Devin as many reps as possible, because he’s in that learning stage.”

“His decision making’s a little bit quicker, and we’ve told him that he’ll have it easier (during the

season) than during 7-on-7’s, because in a real game he will have more options than just passing the ball,” said Jones.

One option that most teams would love to have is the ability to hand the ball to D.J. Oliver, who rushed for 1,689 yards and 20 touchdowns last year. P.J. Jones, who averaged more than seven yards per carry last season, is another runner in Port St. Joe’s arsenal.

Cuttino will also have the ability to tuck the ball and pick up yardage with his own speedy legs.

After Thursday’s competitions in Vernon, Jones gave his team the first week of July before things will start getting serious.

“For two weeks in July, we really try to have perfect attendance, and then we go right into helmets (during) the last week in July,” said Jones. “Once July hits, it’s almost like practice.”

Even though the interior linemen did not participate in the 7-on-7 contests, Jones said “(they) get them out on the practice field, go over stances and (their) plays” in June.

One important lineman Jones expects to have a big impact this season is Sailor Tull, who had surgery in the Spring following an injury he received while weightlifting.

Chase Lanford and Jay Stuckey are also going to play key roles on the line. 

“Chase has gained from 164 to 195 lbs,” said Jones, “and doesn’t have an ounce of fat on him. Stuckey’s had a really good summer, and is moving better after losing weight, down to 280 or 290.”

Another lineman who has bulked up is Uwensis Benedict, but Jones will have to find a replacement for Andruw Fountain, who recently moved to South Carolina after starting at center during the spring game against Blountstown.

Last year’s JV center, King Waters, “can jump right in, and might be the guy that takes the spot,” said Jones, who also spoke highly of Damien Van Dyke, who “had an unbelievable spring at right tackle, and really surprised us.”

Tiger Shark fans will be able to witness the 2022 football squad in action on Friday, August 19, when they host the North Bay Haven Buccaneers in the pre-season kickoff classic.

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