Football: Fairview’s air attack back in spotlight in 7 on 7s

Teams around the area take part in the all-passing, non-contact game

Fairview quarterback Aidan Atkinson looks to make a pass downfield Thursday against ThunderRidge.
Brad Cochi /
Fairview quarterback Aidan Atkinson looks to make a pass downfield Thursday against ThunderRidge.

A fall Friday at Recht Field last fall quickly became a place to add with your fingers and toes, totaling the times quarterback Aidan Atkinson and his group of elite receivers connected in the endzone — count that, one, two, and deeper and deeper into the state record books.

Soon, another dose of the Knights’ high-flying attack could be in store with the football season just a few months away.

But first, offseason work is required … and a calculator may be, too.

For storied coach Tom McCartney, his air attack is back in the spotlight as they, along with other area programs, mix 7-on-7 tournaments into their seasonal preparation.

The basic idea behind 7 on 7s is to feature an all-passing, non-contact game 40 yards away from the endzone. It’s thought to be good for chemistry between receivers and quarterbacks, and needed work for secondaries.

“We think there’s tremendous value in working the timing of our offensive passing game, but also for your defense seeing the different kind of route combinations and different kind of ways teams will attack you,” McCartney said. “For us, we like tournaments because the tournaments have a scoring format. And the scoring format is basically saying, ‘hey, even though it’s not real football, there’s going to be a winner and a loser’.”

The Knights took part in a tournament at Englewood High School earlier in the month and plan on attending another tournament hosted by the Denver Broncos at All City Field next week.

McCartney said his team won four times at the Englewood tournament and had a late lead in a matchup against reigning 5A champ Valor Christian before falling on the final play. The Knights had a chance to play for the tournament title, and perhaps get another chance against the Highlands Ranch power, but weather cancelled the semifinals and championship.

They left with confidence brimming.

“We were right there with (Valor Christian) and we were winning the whole game until the last play,” senior receiver Henry Blackburn said. “This year we have a lot of new guys obviously because we graduated three receivers last year. So, it put a lot of confidence in some of our new guys. They kind of came to the realization like, ‘oh, we can play’.”

Last season, Atkinson set the state’s single-season mark for most touchdown passes in a year with 55 and was fourth all-time in season passing yards per CHSAA records at 3,952.

He finished one yard shy of former Fairview quarterback Johnny Feauto for third and just 229 from overtaking Bear Creek’s Justin Holland for the all-time best mark. And if not for dislocating his thumb in the first half of the regular-season finale against Rocky Mountain, and missing the Knights’ postseason run, he likely would have the record to himself.

In 2019, Blackburn will return as Atkinson’s leading receiver after he caught 54 balls for 890 yards and 17 touchdowns as a junior. Aside from the spectacle that is Fairview’s air-raid, whether it’s with or without pads, the receiver ensured that the focus remains on wins.

“Coach Mac always preaches each week, we have a 3-to-2 mentality,” Blackburn said. “If we can just beat our opponents three points to two points each week, as long as we get the win we don’t care as much about the stats. We don’t care as much about the fame, the publicity or any of that.”