July 6, 2014

Bringing in the best

Top teams keep coming back for Southeastern 7-on-7 Championship

By Devin Golden

— When high school football coaches look for events to take their teams to during the summer, they are looking for three things — top competition, organization and hospitality.

For The Daily Citizen’s Southeastern 7-on-7 Championship, the Dalton community and local business leaders take care of the latter. The tournament officials work tirelessly to provide the organization. And the two combined assure the top competition will show up.

The high school football teams in the Southeastern 7-on-7 Championship come from many directions and states.

However, all those who are returning this summer for the fourth-annual tournament do so because of positive experiences in years past.

And the new sign-ups, having heard of the splendid reviews second hand, want to see whether it lives up to the hype.

The tournament, sponsored by Astroturf, returns Saturday and Sunday with 32 teams coming to the Carpet Capital from 10 states. Twenty teams are returning and some have bookmarked the tournament as a must-do each summer.

“I thought it was a really good experience,” Jackson (Mo.) coach Brent Eckley said. “It was outstanding for our kids to come down. It was great facilities and well organized. ... The neat thing was we had parents who wanted to come down, so it ended up being a neat family experience for us.”

Seven-on-seven competition is the pass-only version of football. There aren’t any offensive or defensive linemen, and the quarterback has a slew of wide receivers and running backs cutting, slanting, curling and sprinting through routes against the opposing side’s linebackers and defensive backs.

It’s a pass-oriented drill, which many coaches say helps with timing between quarterback and receiver. Teams incorporating spread passing attacks don’t need to change their styles to fit the seven-on-seven model.

While the number of seven-on-seven tournaments is growing — Northwest Whitfield, one of the five local teams in this year’s tournament, hosted a seven-on-seven tournament for the second consecutive summer — some coaches are wary of competing in too many during the offseason.

“To be honest, I’m OK doing one or two seven-on-seven tournaments a year,” Pace Academy coach Chris Slade said. “I like going to the Southeastern one. I think it’s well organized.”

Colquitt County, the defending champion, returns to the field for a second summer.

“We put a lot of stock in it,” said coach Rush Propst, who won five state titles at Hoover (Ala.)  High School before taking over at Colquitt County in 2008. “It was a good tournament and well-run with a lot of good teams. We feel good about it, and it is a fun tournament. The competition is outstanding and we get a lot out of it.”

The tournament’s field includes 15 schools from Georgia. Other states represented are: Alabama, Florida, Kentucky, Illinois, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina and Tennessee.

“Coming to a great tournament like the Southeastern, you’re able to play against different styles,” Victory Christian (N.C.) coach Dee Brown said. “It’s different schemes and areas you’ve never heard of. For a quarterback, it’s great. You shouldn’t do a lot of them, but it’s still great. It gives the quarterback a realistic look at what happens for the routes in the plays.”

The other local teams in the tournament are Christian Heritage, Coahulla Creek, Dalton and Southeast Whitfield.

“It’s well run, well organized and a lot of fun, not just for the teams but also the spectators,” Southeast coach Sean Gray said. “It’s great competition. You’ll see some of the best teams in the state and other states. I think it’s great for our community and a boost for the economy. I’m just glad we’re part of it because it’s a great experience for the kids and a win-win for everybody.”

Maplesville makes its second straight appearance in the tournament. The Red Devils have won multiple seven-on-seven tournaments in the past four years, but coach Brent Hubbert calls the tournament in Dalton “hands down” one of the best.

“I had a guy try talking me out of going to this one to go to another,” Hubbert said, “and I told him, ‘No, we’re sticking with this one.’”

Above all, Hubbert said he “likes to challenge the kids” with larger, more competitive tournaments.

The Southeast-ern’s 32-team pool will be divided into four eight-team groups for the first day and two 16-team brackets for Sunday’s double-elimination tournament round. The top four teams in each group reach the championship bracket, and the bottom four are relegated to the consolation bracket.

Scot-landville (La.) coach Eric Randall said he was impressed with the Southeastern last summer, the Hornets’ first time in the tournament.

“Seven-on-seven tournaments are vital,” he said. “I love the Southeastern and that’s why we’re coming back. We got a chance to play on Sunday last year and I really like the opportunity it provides us to prepare our passing game.”

This is the second straight summer Brookwood will compete in the Southeastern. The team’s coach, Shane Boggs, called it “a very well-run tournament” and is happy to return.

“The whole thing for me is about a process of sharpening skill sets and forcing guys to compete,” Boggs said. “My whole goal is, ‘Let’s find teams who are better than us.’ It forces us to do things proper.”

Coaches bring their teams to seven-on-seven competitions for many different reasons. Most say the offense benefits most, while a few in the minority say the pressure on the defense helps prepare that side of the ball.

“I think it’s best for defense, honestly,” East Hall coach Bryan Gray added. “Especially in a tournament like the Southeastern where a little bit of physicality is allowed. ... It’s realistic. In that sense, it’s very important for defense.

“I think, realistically, it allows the defense to speed up and learn recognition.”

The tournament started in the summer of 2011 with 16 teams. It grew to 24 in 2012 and then 32 in 2013. Organizers plan to hold that number for the fourth version.

“The word has really gotten out about our event,” said Gary Jones, advertising sales manager for The Daily Citizen. “It was nice to have coaches calling me and asking to be a part of it this year. Most had been referred by a coach that had been part of a previous (year) and had told them about how competitive and well-run the tournament has been.”

Aside from the quality of competition, there are other positives, Jones noted. The Daily Citizen partners with the city of Dalton, including using turf football fields at Dalton Parks and Recreation Department facilities, as well as the Dalton Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) to promote the event and help it run smoothly. According to figures from the Dalton Parks and Recreation Department, the tournament’s economic impact — money spent in the area as a result of the tournament’s presence — was $420,000 last year.

“This is the premier community event that takes place in Dalton, Ga.,” said William Bronson, The Daily Citizen’s publisher. “The Daily Citizen loves to partner with the CVB, the city of Dalton and the community. The display of talent that comes to this event continues to go up and gives football fans a chance to see some of the finest football athletes in the country.”