By Devin Golden
Seven-on-seven tournaments have become a crucial part of some high school football programs’ summer schedules.
That’s the case for several local teams.
Four teams from Murray and Whitfield counties are among the five who will take part in seven-on-seven competition Saturday at Northwest Whitfield. Joining the host Bruins are area teams Murray County, North Murray and Southeast Whitfield. Gordon Central also will compete.
The action at Northwest starts at 9:30 a.m. with pool play as each team plays each other once. Games will start every 30 minutes.
After a lunch break, bracket play will begin at 1:15 p.m., with the fourth and fifth seeds playing one another and the winner of that game playing the No. 1 seed in the 1:45 p.m. semifinals. The winner of that contest faces the winner of the other semifinal between the Nos. 2 and 3 seeds in the 2:15 p.m. championship.
The loser of the game between the Nos. 4 and 5 seeds faces the loser of the No. 2 and 3 seeds to give each team at least two games after lunch.
Seven-on-seven is a stripped-down version of the game high school teams play in the fall, with no contact or linemen involved and offensive plays limited to passing. It’s a format that will be in the spotlight again next month during The Daily Citizen’s third annual Southeastern 7-on-7 Championship. The AstroTurf-sponsored event will take place at four sites around Dalton on July 13-14.
Northwest, North Murray and Southeast will also participate in the Southeastern, a 42-team event that will draw teams from several states, including as far away as Indiana and Missouri.
Bruins offensive coordinator David Crane said opinions on the seven-on-seven format vary among coaches. The head coach at Southeast from 2008 to 2011 before taking the job at Northwest last year, Crane has found seven-on-seven competition useful in preparing players for the regular season.
In addition to the seven-on-seven tournaments, some teams will have weekly passing leagues in which they have seven-on-seven games against nearby schools.
“Some (coaches) like it and some don’t,” Crane said of the seven-on-seven format. “I like it for confidence and timing. I think it builds confidence and you get the timing down. I think it’s good if you are doing the things you’ll do during games on Friday nights. Now, some teams will have plays in seven-on-seven that they never use otherwise. But we’ve never done that, and I think that’s one of the reasons why we do have success during the season. We spend time on it in the summer.”
For Murray County and first-year head coach Chad Brewer — who was Crane’s defensive coordinator at Southeast before taking the same job at Northwest last year — this is a chance to break in a new starting quarterback. Justin Smith, a junior who backed up senior Brady Todd last season, is slotted as the starter for the Indians entering Saturday, Brewer said.
“I want to see how (Smith) reacts when he does something bad,” Brewer said. “... He’s probably going to make a bad throw and probably will throw an interception. That’s just going to happen. I want to see how he reacts and his maturity level.”
Seven-on-seven can be a strain on defenses, with quick passing putting the secondary under constant pressure. Whatever teams do effectively against his defense, Brewer said it’s better for it to happen in the summer so he can fix it before the season begins.
He believes such competitions can be beneficial.
“I love seven-on-seven,” Brewer said. “I hope the (Georgia High School Association) never keeps us from doing them during the summer.”
Northwest and North Murray also will have new quarterbacks after the Bruins lost Silas Ledford and the Mountaineers lost Brady Swilling to graduation. Caleb Shiflett is the expected starter for Northwest, while there are three players — Peyton Swilling, Hinton McConkey and Jordan Adams — in the race for the starting spot behind center at North Murray.
The Bruins participated in round-robin seven-on-seven competition with Coahulla Creek and Southeast on Wednesday.
“You want your quarterback to complete a high percentage, but even more than that you want to see how they react to mistakes,” Bruins coach Josh Robinson said. “When we got into the red zone, (Shiflett) forced some balls and had some interceptions. He had a really good day, but those were a couple mistakes.
“He had a good day with a few bad plays, but the important thing is he doesn’t make those same mistakes the next time.”