Bruno brings passing league to NVL

Naugatuck High School rising senior wide receiver Chris Quarles hauls in a pass July 22 at Naugatuck High during a NVL passing league game. The league was started this year by Naugatuck High football coach Craig Bruno. –RA ARCHIVE

Naugatuck High School rising senior wide receiver Chris Quarles hauls in a pass July 22 at Naugatuck High during a NVL passing league game. The league was started this year by Naugatuck High football coach Craig Bruno. –RA ARCHIVE

NAUGATUCK — When Craig Bruno took over the Naugatuck High football program in January 2013, he made no secret of the fact that he wanted to bring the Naugatuck Valley League’s passing game to a new level.

He made good on that intention last season, and he’s keeping it up this summer.

Bruno started the NVL’s first passing league, which has run Tuesday nights in July at his home Veterans Field turf with squads from five Valley schools.

Derby, Watertown, Seymour and NVL newcomer Oxford have joined Naugatuck in the league, which wrapped up last week. Bridgeport’s Warren Harding has also been a fill-in team at times.

Bruno’s passing league is like most others in the area. Teams square off in one-hour games of seven-on-seven, where there is no offensive line and the quarterback has four seconds to throw.

The offense starts at the opposing 40-yard line and drives until a turnover on downs, an interception or a touchdown. Touchdowns and two-point conversions account for the offense’s score, while interceptions earn two points for the defense.

There are no pads or helmets, and plays are whistled dead upon one-hand contact. With no real contact, no running game and no linemen, teams in Bruno’s league aren’t afraid of exposing themselves to others.

“It’s just a great opportunity for the kids to get reps during the summer and get better,” Bruno said. “I felt like it was a good way to not only help our team, but to help all the teams around us. We’ve had a real good summer with it.”

Bruno points to route-running and coverage skills as the biggest on-field benefits of a passing league, while the competition factor adds a bit of an intangible.

“Whenever you get a chance to compete, it’s great,” Bruno said. “It’s not about wins or losses. Kids get to go up against other guys from the league, and they’re friends with a lot of the guys, so they’re going to play extra hard.”

Offseason practices and games are usually prohibited by the CIAC, but summer passing leagues are allowed by a loophole in the CIAC handbook. The specific rules — such as the clause that stipulates one coach can only coach six of his athletes — are often brushed aside by a gentleman’s agreement among coaches.

Bruno hoped more NVL schools would join for the inaugural year, but several preferred to get their reps in other leagues. He’s hopeful other Valley teams will come on board next year with some good word of mouth, which could eliminate any trepidation other staffs may have about facing teams they’ll play during the regular season.

“Everyone’s seemed to have had fun and we haven’t had any issues,” Bruno said. “I hope next year we can get up to eight or 12 teams because that will be more fun for everyone involved.”

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