Weekly 7-on-7 practices help North Marion football players learn new offense under head coach Keith Bennett

PHIL HAWKINS - North Marion junior Joe Ledesma hauls in a pass before taking it upfield for a big gain against the Santiam Wolverines in the Huskies' 7-on-7 practice at Woodburn High School on July 17.
With the 2018 football season just on the horizon, the North Marion Huskies are taking advantage of every opportunity they can get to play.

Prior to moratorium week, North Marion took a short trip south to Woodburn High School to take part in the Bulldogs' weekly 7-on-7 offensive and defensive practices on July 17.

It was the second consecutive week the Huskies had participated in the event, allowing the incoming football players to practice against live competition while learning routes and plays they'll be using Friday nights in the coming month.

With new head coach Keith Bennett taking over the program this year, he'll be implementing an altered version of the wing-T offense the Huskies have used for years under former head coach Doug Bilodeau. Bennett said he has been impressed over the previous two practices at Woodburn at how quickly his players have picked up the new plays and routes within the new offense.

"It's a brand new system for them, even though it's similar to what we've run in the past," Bennett said. "They all took on something brand new and learned exceptionally well. The effort we're real proud of."

The 7-on-7 practices are run without pads and helmets, where teams from up and down the valley converge on Woodburn High School to take part in 12-play sets on a shortened field. Teams start on the 50-yard line and try to score as quickly as possible, returning to midfield after failing to convert a first down or scoring a touchdown.

The practices pit quarterbacks, receivers and running backs on one side against linebackers and defensive backs on the other side. Without linemen to protect the quarterback, defenses are forced to lean heavily on lockdown coverage to prevent opposing teams from scoring.

For a team like North Marion, which plans on continuing its blitz-heavy defensive scheme that Bennett ran as defensive coordinator last year, it effectively takes the foundation away from their linebackers and defensive backs. But that allows the Huskies to gain more reps on pass defense, and the fact that the program is rolling back the same defensive playbook it ran last year immediately puts the defensive players in a much better position at this point of the offseason than the offense.

PHIL HAWKINS - North Marion junior Joe Torian rises up to intercept a pass targeted to a Santiam reciever in the Huskies' 7-on-7 practice at Woodburn High School on July 17."Defensive football is always at least a week or two ahead of the offense," Bennett said. "Couple that with the fact that the defense will be the same, but the offense will be new. The defense is in front."

Although teams were not allowed to line up players on the line of scrimmage, that doesn't mean that the Huskies' big men were shut out of the event altogether. A number of offensive and defensive linemen were seen lining up to the sides, rolling out for passes on offense and dropping back into coverage on defense.

While North Marion likely will not see any unusual packages featuring linemen carrying or catching the ball during live games in the fall, Bennett was happy to see the unheralded players who do the dirty work in the trenches come out to support the team, learn the playbook, build camaraderie and work on a bit of cardio.

"We had three or four linemen," Bennett said. "If they want to show up there, run routes and get some of that glory, we're happy to do that out in the summer."

With July bleeding into August this week, the Huskies will wrap up their summer activities with youth camp this week, followed by padless high school camp next week. While the high school camp isn't mandatory, Bennett is hoping to see as many players out as possible to help them acclimate to the temperatures and the physical exertion required of them when official practices begin Aug. 13.

From there it's just 11 short days until the team dons its uniforms for a trip to Banks High School on Aug. 24 for its preseason jamboree, leading up to the season-opener at Stayton on Aug. 31.

Phil Hawkins can be reached at 503-765-1194 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

PHIL HAWKINS - Junior Wyatt Jesperson (foreground) and senior Chazz Fobert line up to defend against the Wolverines. Although Jesperson will make his living on the offensive and defensive line during the regular season, he was one of several North Marion linemen to take part in the practices to help learn more of the playbook while playing with the team and catching a few passes on offense for fun.

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