Shaw was more than pleased with the results.
Not only did Cherokee place fifth of 50 teams in a 7-on-7 tournament at North Gwinnett this past weekend — the best finish for the team in any such event — but the Warriors learned some things along the way.
That’s what Shaw says really matters.
“It’s probably the best we have finished at one of those since I’ve been here,” said Shaw, who is entering his third season at Cherokee. “I’m proud of them. They really competed.”
Cherokee faced North Gwinnett, Central Gwinnett and Langston Hughes, among others. The Warriors faced Langston Hughes twice, first losing in pool play and then winning in the elimination portion of the tournament.
Shaw said seeing his players find a way to beat Langston Hughes the second time around gave him more confidence in his team.
“Seven-on-7s are an opportunity for us to get in a competitive situation and see what kids are going to make plays when the pressure is on,” Shaw said.
Quarterback Spencer Ashley is throwing the ball better than ever, according to Shaw. Ashley, who has two years under his belt as a starter, is preparing for his senior campaign and his final chance to get Cherokee back in the state playoffs.
Shaw said Ashley is taking the responsibility to heart, and he also singled out the performance of receiver Andrew Harris.
“He made big play after big play,” Shaw said.
With the graduation of all-State receiver Blace Brown, Cherokee is looking for a way to make up for the lost yards. Shaw said the Warriors won’t find it in one player like they did in Brown, rather looking to Harris and a few other players to share the load.
In the end, that might make Cherokee even better than it was in 2013.
“We have got some young kids that have stepped up,” Shaw said. “Just being able to catch passes and run routes is good for our offensive skill kids to get those reps in.
“You can’t replace Blace — I just have to get that out there — but Dante Baker and Colton Rozanske have stepped up, and that has allowed Spencer to have a few more options rather and always looking for Blace,” Shaw said. “It’s probably made us a little better because he doesn’t have Blace to dial into.”
Baker and Rozanske are both seniors. Add another senior to the mix in Harris, and the Warriors have plenty of veteran options.
Shaw also isn’t ruling out the use of some talented sophomores.
“We aren’t as one-dimensional in regard to the passing game,” Shaw said. “Those kids made some big, big grabs. Colton Rozanske made some diving grabs that were outstanding, so it was great for him to gain some confidence and great for us to gain some confidence in him.”
Defensively, the Warriors also looked good at the 7-on-7. Facing pass-heavy opponents in Region 5AAAAAA, being able to successfully stop an aerial offense is even more important than operating one.
“I think we allowed the third-fewest points of anyone (at the 7-on-7) tournament,” Shaw said. “We are playing a lot better defensively. We are running all the same coverages we will be running during the season, so it’s good practice for us with that.”
The Warriors have one more 7-on-7 remaining next month at Lassiter. Like the North Gwinnett tournament, the National Select qualifier at Lassiter will draw teams from an even further distances.
“There isn’t any negative to doing the 7-on-7s,” Shaw said. “We only do a couple of them, but it gives us an opportunity to see what kids are going to step up and make those big-time grabs on Friday night. I feel nothing but positives come out. It gives our kids some chemistry and team unity together.”