ROSWELL — Different high school football teams have different goals and expectations during summer 7-on-7 tournaments, even ones with as high a profile as that of the Corky Kell Classic tournament.
Yet one common thread for every team involved is that it serves as an early building block to the upcoming season, though it was a bigger one for some of the 35 teams involved in the 2019 edition of the tournament Friday, including 10 Gwinnett County teams, than for others.
Collins Hill and North Gwinnett both won six overall games on the day and reached the quarterfinals at Roswell Area Park, and can make a strong argument for having taken the largest steps forward.
That is particularly true of the Eagles, who despite making the Class AAAAAAA state playoffs finished just 3-8 in 2018 and brought a very young squad of quarterbacks, receivers and defensive backs into the tournament.
However, led by youngsters like rising sophomores in quarterback Sam Horn and cornerback Travis Hunter, Lenny Gregory’s squad showed plenty of growth in posting a 5-2 overall record in pool and bracket play, including wins over Centennial, Norcross, Monroe Area (twice) and Mays before falling to Kell 25-15 in the quarterfinals.
“I’m excited about our football team,” Gregory said. “And I’m excited about how young we are and talented we are, and everything has changed. … What we’re overcoming is just confidence — just having confidence and learning how to play at that elite level. If you look at our schedule from last year, it’s the same one this year. It’s an elite schedule. In order to compete at that level, you’ve got to be elite. So that’s what we’re trying to teach our kids, just instilling confidence. They’re very talented kids, and the way you get confidence is in the weight room, in your summer training and 7-on-7 stuff.”
Friday’s results may also be an indicator that the Eagles could sport a dramatically different look this fall from a year ago, at least offensively.
Their success in a competition based entirely on the passing game is a major step forward for a team that completed just a combined 16 of 72 passes for 223 yards and three touchdowns in 11 games last season.
“It’s no secret. As a coach, you adapt to your personnel,” Gregory said. “We’re excited about Sam Horn. We’ve got some really talented people. We’ve got some great running backs. We’ve got great receivers. So we’re going to be different this year, but we’re going to base everything off our personnel.”
Meanwhile, North rolled through their first six games of the tournament, sweeping through its pool and posting bracket-play wins Carver-Atlanta and Cherokee before falling to Lee County 25-23 in the quarterfinals.
Stewart was particularly pleased with the performance of group of players that included a good mix of experience and youth, led by quarterback J.R. Martin, safety Taylor Goodson, cornerback Jarvis Cunningham and receiver Josh Downs, all rising seniors, and rising junior linebacker Barrett Carter.
“We did some good things, and we did some bad things,” Bulldogs coach Bill Stewart said. “So we’ll just continue to work on execution and work on some things that we’re really trying to hone in on your skills. It’s not real football, but there are a lot of things to take away from these (tournaments).
“The one thing you learn from these tournaments all the time is there is a game of attrition. You learn that if you lose focus for just a second against good teams, you lose. Then you’re playing catch-up, and you don’t have much time (in 7-on-7 mini-games).”
Grayson was the only other Gwinnett team to make it as far as the round of 16 in bracket play, avenging a pool play loss to Lambert before dropping a 24-22 decision to Lee County on a turnover on downs on the final play of the game. The Rams also bounced back from the initial loss to Lambert to score wins over Chattahoochee, Colquitt County and Buford in pool play.
Brookwood also won its pool with wins over Milton, Blessed Trinity and Lanier before falling in the first round of bracket play, while Mill Creek also won three times in pool play, including wins over Pinecrest Academy, Mays and eventual tournament champion Marietta, and Archer also posted three wins in pool play.