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Dick Harmon: Ty Detmer wishes he had 7-on-7 tournaments in his day

Ty Detmer observes a two-hour offense vs. defense scrimmage at Cougar Stadium. Detmer now coaches a high school football team in Texas and encourages his players to participate in 7-on-7 tournaments.
Ty Detmer observes a two-hour offense vs. defense scrimmage at Cougar Stadium. Detmer now coaches a high school football team in Texas and encourages his players to participate in 7-on-7 tournaments.
Gary McKellar, Deseret News Archives

They might be young, but don’t be afraid to give them more.

That’s the advice of Heisman Trophy winner Ty Detmer, who spoke at a clinic this week in Draper where the city recreation department hosted the first session of the fourth-annual Utah Youth 7-on-7 Passing Championships.

These 7-on-7 tournaments have become widely popular, with thousands of teams from coast to coast involved.

Detmer wishes he’d had that experience when he was in elementary, junior high and high school.

A 7-on-7 competition is where a quarterback, receivers, running backs and tight ends take on a defense comprised of corners, safeties and linebackers. There are no linemen, blocking or tackling — just passing and defending. Most football teams incorporate this into their practice sessions.

Creating tournaments of 7-on-7 teams is a trending sport. Some tournaments have aired on national television.

“Texas may have been doing 7-on-7 camps the last eight years or so," said Detmer. "But when I was growing up in Texas, there was a rule that players couldn’t attend camps. They couldn’t go to college camps or anything like it.”

So, kids these days are much further ahead than Detmer and his peers were back in the early 1980s.

Detmer explained that young quarterbacks these days have more opportunities to learn their craft. He encourages youth coaches to give players more; that kids are learning to read defenses earlier than ever, that even playing a John Madden video football game is teaching them about offenses and they can get very creative. “Let them do it,” he says.

This past December, Detmer was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame during ceremonies in New York City. He is part of, a sponsor of the tournament in Draper this weekend, which organizers say is the largest in the nation in 2013 with 140 teams and 1,680 players.

Detmer has also partnered with Dustin Smith in a program called Especially for Athletes, which encourages athletes to use their status to help others.

“For quarterbacks and receivers, the experience of 7-on-7 tournaments is awesome,” said Detmer. His current high school team, St. Andrew’s Episcopal near Austin, Texas, has done a lot of 7 on 7 during PE periods throughout the school year and has competed against other teams. He’s been at tournaments where a run-oriented team would show up and have to draw up plays in the dirt and make them up as they played.

“But for teams and quarterbacks who have passing offenses, it is a great way to develop timing with receivers and quarterbacks and where quarterbacks can learn defenses. A lot of these kids are getting great experiences at reading cover 2, cover 3, man-on-man and discovering how to attack it. They are getting very creative with plays and that only helps down the line.”

Detmer used this kind of training to prepare his own quarterback, Preston Dewey, now a redshirt freshman at the University of Miami. Ty’s brother Koy, who played at Colorado and for the Philadelphia Eagles, has a son, Koy Jr., a sophomore, and his father has taken him to 7-on-7 tournaments all over Texas almost every weekend.

In Texas, the quarterbacks call their own plays at these competitions because of a rule that coaches are not allowed to call plays. Detmer says the experience is like gold. But so is the exposure.

When a quarterback has to decide on what plays to call and run against a specific defense, “you can’t beat that experience,” said Detmer. “To get recruited, you really have to have game film at the end of your junior year, but all these experiences really go a long way to help. It gives a QB credibility that he can throw it.”

Another plus is young players get used to playing against other players who they will meet on the field later on in game competition. “It’s not real football. You don’t line up and block each other, but it does give you a chance to get to know each other.”

Detmer told young players at the clinic in Draper to be patient. “Everyone likes to take their shots, but the most important thing is to complete passes, move the ball down the field, get first downs and complete drives. You have to be patient. Take a shot here or there when it’s there.”

With young players, Detmer says coaches and parents sometimes baby them too much. He knows kids are capable of reading defenses in the sixth grade. And while you don’t expect them to play like seniors, if they’re comfortable, Detmer says to give them more.

“I have fourth-graders now, playing the flag leagues, that are running some pretty sophisticated stuff, making the right choices. In a nutshell, keep it simple, but if they can handle it, give them a little bit more.”

Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at