These competitions gained life as a way to keep players conditioned and in tune with the offense, and while the philosophy hasn’t changed much, the popularity of 7-on-7 games has.
With the success of the three-, four- and five-wide receiver sets in the spread offensive formation during the early to mid-2000s, more and more high school teams have found it necessary to devote their time to preparing for the multiple sets — both offensively and defensively.
“For us, 7-on-7 games are a way to work on the details of our spread offense and to see defensive coverages against us,” said Lassiter coach Jep Irwin, who will host a 24-team 7-on-7 invitational tournament July 20-21, with the winner advancing to a national tournament in Hoover, Ala. “We don’t get enough situations in during spring practice, so this is a way for us to get that.
“It’s slightly more competitive than a normal practice, and it gets us reps against other teams. It also gives kids a chance to compete and gets kids to focus. It’s like a cross between a practice and a game. It’s backyard football with no pads and people watching, and it’s fun. The kids and the coaches seem to like it.”
Woodstock coach Brent Budde also sees the benefits of 7-on-7 games.
“Any time you’re coaching kids, you want to give them as many tools as possible that can help them get better,” he said. “Seven-on-7 is one of them. It gives quarterbacks time to see coverages and play with receivers to identify route running and timing. You definitely see benefits from it come fall and you’re one step ahead of the game.”
The 7-on-7 games’ growing popularity has even helped players attract college scholarships.
Some coaches, however, have voiced concerns over the way some tournaments are administered, and the idea of all-star teams and sponsored showcases makes it too much like AAU basketball.
“I am worried that it could become like AAU with recruiting and money and all that comes with it,” Allatoona coach Gary Varner said. “That’s the danger. There are college coaches I’ve talked to that are worried about it as well. If it’s team-oriented, then I like it. Those big, mega events, and all-star teams, I don’t like.
“I like it more when just a few teams get together and play one another.”
First-year Etowah coach Dave Svehla has a similar position as Varner’s.
“At the end of the day, I don’t live and die by 7-on-7 games,” Svehla said. “The emphasis for me is on learning, and I’m not big on the leagues. Football is unique in that it doesn’t have those extra year-round leagues like travel softball and baseball and volleyball and AAU basketball. That’s a good thing.
“But, there is a value to it because it’s a chance for skill kids to get together and get exposure out of season. For me, though, I just want my kids to be ready for the fall. I like to use 7-on-7 as teachable moments.”
Unlike Irwin’s spread offense at Lassiter, Budde’s Woodstock offense slants towards a steady running game, so he appreciates 7-on-7 games for how they improve his defense.
“We want to see these teams to work on our defense and to get a look at offenses and see how our defenses react,” Budde said. “We get to practice and compete and not worry about winning and losing. Our kids get to learn how to play coverages.”
Kell coach Derek Cook also uses 7-on-7 as a way to prepare his defense for the season. The Longhorns recently won a 7-on-7 tournament they participated in at Central Gwinnett High School.
“These 7-on-7 events really took off about five or six years ago, when the spread offense got picked up by a lot of high schools,” Cook said. “It involves a lot of timing and repetitions, and 7-on-7 games help with that.
“I like to participate in them for the defense, because they learn to read and react to receivers. Some leagues let you get contact at the line of scrimmage, and that’s like practice. Other than blocking and tackling, you get a realistic look at the game, and it allows time for players and coaches to work on parts of the game without the kids playing in pads.”