Defending state champs.
That sentence has a nice ring to it, but Batavia players and coaches know nothing will be given them when real football starts again in the fall.
The process of defending their IHSA Class 6A title began last winter in the weight room. It resumed last week when the Bulldogs opened summer camp and the pace picked up Thursday.
That’s when the team’s skill players took part in five, 20-minute 7-on-7 pool play “games” at the Red Grange Classic.
The event, hosted by Wheaton Warrenville South, features 32 teams. They were scattered over four sites for pool play but will gather at WWS Friday for a double-elimination tournament. There will also be a big-man competition.
The games featured referees and were little more than a glorified game of “touch,” but allowed quarterbacks and receivers to work on the passing game against defensive backs and linebackers. The defenses scored points by stopping drives or making interceptions.
“We lost our first game (to Naperville North) and I heard guys saying, ‘We beat the state champs,’” Batavia senior quarterback Evan Acosta said. “It’s great to see we have a target on our back and we’re gonna have to work to defend that.”
Acosta, a left-hander, is competing with junior right-hander Kyle Niemiec, for the right to succeed graduated All-State quarterback Micah Coffey, who passed for almost 2,500 yards and 29 TDs.
“Micah was a great teacher and I got to spend every practice with him and I got to learn from him,” said the 6-foot-1, 170-pound Acosta. “This year, I just hope to step out of the shadow.”
He and Niemiec were teammates on Batavia’s varsity baseball team this spring, too. Acosta was a pitcher, Niemiec played third base/outfield.
“We’d ride to practice together and are really good friends,” said the 6-2, 180 Niemiec. “It’s always competitive but it’s a friendly competition.”
Coach Dennis Piron and offensive coordinator Mike Gaspari have plenty of skill positions to fill thanks to graduation, having lost star running back Anthony Scaccia (1,913 yards rushing) and a pair of receivers — Jordan Zwart and Michael Moffatt — who each topped 600 yards receiving.
“We feel like we’ve got a lot of the right pieces,” Piron said. “We’ve just gotta get in a rhythm and find what the kids can do.”
The winner of Friday’s tournament is eligible to move on to a national tournament and the scoring format makes it different from some other 7-on-7s.
“A lot of them are teaching 7-on-7s,” the coach said. “You’ll run plays and talk to the kids in between. Those are nice, especially with a young team.
“But when you come out here, these events can be brutal with the points, the clock and pressure, pressure, pressure. But good come from that too, because you’re kind of fast forwarding your offensive personnel, which I really like.”
The intensity, he added, will make his team much better by the second half of the summer.
Acosta and Niemiec, are focused on learning the ropes.
“We’re trying to mesh with our receivers, trying to find timing,” Acosta said. “One thing we can do is see how DBs and linebackers react and that should help us with our reads when the chaos of the D-line rushing is coming after us so we can still focus and think and throw.”
Niemiec said the players have been inspired by last year’s seniors.
“The leadership that was out there was unreal,” he said. “We just gotta get on the same page. Today was a learning experience. There was a lot of development.”