With spring practice over and full preseason preparation for the 2019 high school football campaign still more than a month away, attention for many of Gwinnett County’s teams turns to summer workouts and 7-on-7 camps and tournaments.
An one of the largest of the latter in the metro Atlanta area, the Corky Kell Classic 7-on-7 Tournament, is set for Friday, when 35 teams from throughout north Georgia get together in north Fulton County in pool play, followed by a single-elimination tournament.
The seven pools of five teams each will be at sites scattered throughout the Roswell/Alpharetta area, followed by the bracket play at Roswell Area Park throughout the day, with 10 different teams from Gwinnett — Archer, Brookwood, Buford, Collins Hill, Grayson, Lanier, Mill Creek, North Gwinnett and Peachtree Ridge — participating.
It’s not the first 7-on-7 tournament that most of these teams will have participated in since school let out, but while most coaches admit there are limited things for them to look at during the 7-on-7 passing league and tournament season, those taking part Friday say the Corky Kell Classic gives them at least one major measuring stick this early in the summer.
“You definitely see how your kids compete against good competition,” said Lanier coach Kory Mobbs, whose Longhorns are looking to build on the program’s first trip to the Class AAAAAA state semifinals last fall. “But on the other side of that, I would say that in my 15 years coaching, it’s not a true indicator because we’ve had some teams that were not great in the summer in 7-on-7s that ended up being our best teams. So when you throw the other elements, the true elements of statistical play and running the football, in there, it changes a lot of things. But I think you see how your team competes against good competition, and that’s probably the biggest benefit.”
Still, while there are plenty of limitations to playing passing-only games in which contact is extremely restricted, there are a few specific areas some coaches can get a look at.
For Archer coach Andy Dyer, his receivers and defensive backs will draw particular interest with the Tigers needing to find people to step in after the graduation of several multiple-year starters.
More importantly, he says Friday’s tournament will give him and his staff a close look at players who are able to cross-train at both positions.
“I think for us right now, one of the things we really want to see develop is we want to see depth at all those positions, and guys that have really started to learn their primary positions start to be able to learn another position,” said Dyer whose Tigers advanced to the Class AAAAAAA state semifinals before falling in overtime to Colquitt County. “The more kids can do, especially in those skill position spots, the more they’re able to do on both sides of the ball, and the more valuable they become to your team.
“So we want guys to learn as much as they can, and No. 2, you want to build depth. This is a great time of year for guys to get in and get quality reps.”
And while the increase in repetitions in workouts and tournaments is likely to pay dividends down the road, those reps have become cleaner and more crisp for many teams since they were allowed by the Georgia High School Association to play competitive scrimmages at the end of their spring practices two years ago.
“I think the timetable in your head as a coach has sped up because you’ve already evaluated your kids and the team live in the spring,” Mobbs said. “So really, 7-on-7 is a great challenge to see improvement in the secondary. Your (defensive backs) are going to be put to a test in 1-on-1 battles pretty much on every play. So you get to see how those guys compete.
“Likewise on the other side of the ball, you’ve got receivers that you want to see catch the football and make plays when the ball’s in the air. Those things have a way of helping separate kids in a 7-on-7 setting. Now, there’s a lot of unrealistic parts of it, too, that are frustrating as a coach, I think, sometimes. But you take it for what it is and make sure you get quality reps against really good competition.”
Dyer agrees the added work against live competition in the spring helps speed up the timetable for development during the summer 7-on-7 season, though he also points out that timetable comes with its limits based on the experience level of the players on given team.
And the biggest test he expects his Tigers will get during Friday’s Corky Kell tournament will be just how much of what they learned during the spring continues to carry over to the summer in a competitive atmosphere.
“It definitely is for your older kids, but you’ve still got a group of young kids,” Dyer said. “No matter what, you’ve still got a group of young kids every year that are in their infant stage of learning the offense and defense. When the talent level (of the opponent) gets better, things get more complicated. So those kids have got to learn how to complete and keep up.
“Pretty much all the teams there have now probably thrown in two or three different competitions by this point (in the summer). So I think for us, we’ve done a lot of teaching in these last couple of weeks. So you’d like to obviously see that retention in those kids — just a (them) knowing-what-you-want-before-you-call-it type deal. Just really understand the scheme of what we’re doing.”
Pool play in Friday’s tournament begins at 9:15 at Alpharetta High School, two different fields at Blessed Trinity School in Roswell, Centennial High School in Roswell and three different fields at Roswell Area Park.
Bracket play is set to begin at 1 p.m. at Roswell Area Park.