NORTH CLARENDON — When the Mill River football team mapped out its 2020 season before the pandemic, an added emphasis on the run was something near the top of its list. Time to scrap those plans.
The Minutemen, and high school football teams across the state, won’t be running the ball this fall, instead, they’ll play a 7-on-7 touch football alternative that exclusively revolves around the passing game.
Mill River initially had its reservations, given that 11-on-11 tackle football is ever-present on their TVs and in the media, but its players have come to terms with the normal they’ll endure this year.
“I think they’ve adjusted well,” said Minutemen coach Greg Lewis. “It’s been different for linemen, but they’re having fun with it.”
Mill River is hurting a bit for numbers with around 23 guys suiting up this year. Normally, the Minutemen have numbers in the upper 30s and into the 40s, but the circumstances of the season turned a handful of kids off from playing.
“We don’t have enough for a junior varsity group, so we’re trying to find ways to get guys on the field,” Lewis said.
The 7-on-7 games will be structured so linemen will play wide receiver in the first and third quarters, while skill position players play during the second and fourth.
Mill River doesn’t have a ton of traditional linemen to pull from, so it’s looked into using some of its bigger receivers in those quarters.
Lewis has spoken to coaches around the state and the Minutemen aren’t the only ones a bit thin with linemen numbers.
“Every game could be different,” Lewis said.
Mill River has to contend with the loss of quarterback Colby Fox to graduation. With Fox gone, the Minutemen aren’t left with much experience under center.
Evan McPhee, a senior, could see some time at quarterback.
“(Evan) is an all-around athlete,” Lewis said. “He played quarterback in middle school, but hasn’t since then.”
McPhee is a wide receiver by trade and will see plenty of time at his natural position as well. Lewis sees McPhee as Mill River’s top wideout option when he’s not playing quarterback.
Junior Chris Barnett is another option at quarterback and Lewis said some linemen have impressed with their throwing ability and could see time there as well.
Outside of McPhee, Mill River has some solid receivers expected to make an impact.
Junior Dallas Bryant is a versatile player who should see a critical role.
“(Dallas) did a lot for us last year. He’s fast and athletic,” Lewis said. “He was going to be a running back-receiver hybrid in a normal season.”
Connor Lopicollo played tight end last year and will be a big target for anyone under center.
“(Connor) is big and tall and has great hands,” Lewis said.
A fun wrinkle to the Vermont high school football season is regional scheduling that creates matchups that aren’t commonly seen.
Mill River gets a chance to play Division I teams like Rutland, Burr and Burton and Middlebury, along with Division II Fair Haven.
“We normally only have one game under the lights, but this year, they’ll have three or four night games. They’re looking forward to that,” Lewis said.
“The kids are a little intimidated by those bigger schools, but they’re excited for the challenge of playing teams like Rutland and Burr and Burton and Middlebury. It adds more excitement.”