When Von Whiting informed his mother of a 7-on-7 football league at the Fredericksburg Field House, the apprehension was palpable.
Shaunta Lee was unsure if the King George standout senior wide receiver should participate during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I was just like, ‘This is my last year and it’s really important,’” Whiting said. “Some things you’ve just got to do. And she kind of just let me play.”
Whiting and his King George teammates can’t wear the Foxes’ blue and gold. They also aren’t allowed to use the team name or mascot. They’re under the moniker “Air Attack” at the ongoing league that is entering its third weekend.
Air Attack is off to a 4–0 start as King George’s experienced skill position players have been impressive with hopes that it carries over to the Virginia High School League season that begins in February.
“I think our guys are doing a good job playing well as a team,” said King George head coach Vern Lunsford, who has been allowed to direct the team as long as it’s not showing any affiliation with the school. “It’s only 7-on-7, but our kids are excited to be out doing something.”
The 12-team league is comprised of players from schools throughout the Fredericksburg area. Contests are played outside on the Field House’s artificial turf. Games are played without offensive or defensive linemen, and players are ruled down when they’re touched with one hand.
When they arrive, their temperatures are checked and they’re required to wear masks and social distance when not participating. They also must wear gloves on the field. The cost was $650 per team and some squads have as many as 24 players.
League director Jono Rollins said with no VHSL season this fall, the players crave the opportunity so much they have no problem following protocol.
“I would say the excitement is through the roof,” Rollins said. “It gives a lot of kids the chance to make sure their skills don’t go out the window. They’re getting exercise and they get to practice all the things they’ve worked on leading up to playing in February.”
The Field House was shuttered for months in the immediate aftermath of the pandemic. It received federal funds from the Paycheck Protection Program to withstand the financial fallout.
Rollins said the Field House is operating at 75 percent of its typical fall football leagues. But if high school season was in session, it would be worse. The influx of high school players has helped make up for the shortage of younger athletes participating.
“It kind of replaces the teams we lost in the younger age groups,” Rollins said.
The benefits are mutual. While the Field House is able to fulfill its business model, high school coaches get to see their players compete.
Lunsford has tracked the development of skill players like standout quarterback Charles Mutter, running back Javon Campbell and receivers Whiting and Chris Cox. He’s also been able to integrate Colonial Beach transfer running back Randall Annino and 6-foot-3 freshman wide receiver Chance Wiggins into the offense.
“We’ve played a lot of kids and gotten a good rotation going,” Lunsford said. “We’ve been able to keep everybody fresh. It’s been really exciting to see we have a lot of talent but also a lot of depth. It’s been good for our kids.”
Caroline head coach Doug Allison said his team competed for the first time this past weekend. Allison’s players were joined by others from Stafford County and Fredericksburg, so he said it isn’t an accurate gauge of his team’s talent level.
Still, he said the opportunity to be together in a competitive atmosphere is a welcome one.
Every area school system except Stafford has allowed athletes to participate in out-of-season conditioning. But rules prohibit the use of shared equipment. So a quarterback and receiver playing catch won’t be allowed until next month at the earliest.
“The biggest thing is for teammates and rivals to have a chance to be around each other and hang out,” Allison said. “If they learn some football, that’s even better.”
Taft Coghill Jr: 540/374-5526
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