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Heinauer sees benefits for Mars from 7-on-7 scrimmages

| Saturday, July 19, 2014, 6:18 p.m.
Eric Felack | Valley News Dispatch
Mars running back Joshua Schultheis runs through the Knoch defense for a first down in the first quarter Friday, Oct. 11, 2013, at Knoch Stadium in Jefferson Township.
Eric Felack | Valley News Dispatch
Mars running back Joshua Schultheis runs through the Knoch defense for a first down in the second quarter Friday, Oct. 11, 2013.

High school football practice officially starts in August.

Like many teams, though, Mars has been putting in work over the summer.

“We've been pretty busy. We are in the weight room and doing conditioning Monday through Thursday in the morning,” Mars coach Scott Heinauer said. “We've been averaging around 40-some kids, and I think that's good for our program. I think our kids understand that it's something everyone does and you need to do in order to be successful.”

While the Planets work hard, there is a flexible approach to the voluntary sessions.

“It's not a mandated-type thing. It's a situation where we expect kids to be there,” Heinauer said. “If you're going on vacation, we just ask that the kids let us know. I understand kids have other responsibilities. That's good for our kids. We need all the kids we can get.”

Mars does not limit its summer workouts to upperclassmen or varsity-only players.

“We invite all our kids in grades 9 to 12 to come,” Heinauer said. “The more times you can show them how to do something, the more times they can see it and the better off they will be.”

Although the Planets can't have scrimmages with full pads until after high school practice begins Aug. 11, they are taking part in 7-on-7 passing scrimmages. Players wear helmets and shorts and are not allowed to tackle.

“I think the 7-on-7s are good. It's good to get kids acclimated to what we're doing from a defensive side of the ball, in terms of basic coverages and other basic things. We're in teaching mode and I think it's good for us,” Heinauer said. “Offensively, we put a couple new plays in here and there. There are only so many plays you can run.

“They are learning routes and where to go. These kids need to be familiar with stuff so this is second nature once official practice begins. We know there will be an acclimation period when practice starts, but we shouldn't have to go back and teach a lot.”

Mars participated in 7-on-7 passing scrimmages against Butler and North Allegheny. In addition, the team made its annual stop at Pitt's football team camp in late June, where it also competed in a passing tournament.

“We lost in the quarterfinals, and that's not bad. We're happy with that. I think it's a good thing for our kids,” Heinauer said. “We have to throw the football to be successful. We've been a run-oriented team here. We all know we need to throw the football in this day and age. We know we won't break into five-wide passing program either. But it's good for our kids to learn what our plays are and to learn coverages, as far as for the linebackers and secondary.

“We encourage our young kids to do this.”

However, Heinauer knows there's only so much stock you can put into performances at passing camps.

“Most quarterbacks look great in them. But, when you add pressure and have kids chasing after you, it's a whole different game. The same goes on the defensive side. If a person gets loose, you have to tackle him. Those are things you can't do in a 7-on-7 situation,” he said. “You see a lot of good things, but it doesn't tell you how physical that person will be. We've been successful and we'll continue to do what we have been doing here.”

The Planets finished 9-2 last season and fell to Central Valley, 35-21, in the WPIAL Class AAA quarterfinals. Mars graduated three-year starting quarterback Owen Nearhoof and all of its starting receivers. However, many linemen and senior running back Josh Schultheis return.

Schultheis rushed for 1,645 yards and 24 touchdowns last season.

“I think our kids are getting better, but I think we have a way to go,” Heinauer said. “The 7-on-7s have been great. When you put the pads on, that's the determining factor on who will start and who won't start.”

The Planets hope to be a force again this season.

“We have high expectations,” Heinauer said. “That's what I think every coach would want. That's the pressure that comes along with the job. We're OK with that.”

Joe Sager is a freelance writer.

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