DALTON, Ga. - The merits of 7-on-7 football can be argued, but each of the 36 high school teams participating in this weekend's Southeastern 7-on-7 Championship expects to benefit in some way.
A few teams, such as last year's tournament champion, Cartersville, are in Dalton to win it. The great majority of coaches involved, though, see the event as more of a test of where their teams stand this early in the training process than as a competition.
New players, new schemes, new attitudes -- they all were on display during Saturday's pool play, when four teams from each of the seven pools were vying to reach today's championship bracket.
Dalton High was one that made it, going 4-2 for the day.
Though many of the area's teams went into Saturday with some specific goals, each is being evaluated on one major aspect of the game: How do they compete when the whistle blows?
"That's the big thing we get out of these tournaments, watching our kids compete," said Ridgeland coach Mark Mariakis, one of six schools with two teams in the tournament. "We're not worried about winning the tournament. I want to see them compete, see how they react when things don't go as they want."
Like Mariakis, Southeast Whitfield coach Sean Gray is using the weekend to evaluate his players, and like the Panthers he has two teams in the field.
"I enjoy this weekend," Gray said. "It's exhausting, but you get a lot of work in. As a coach I'm learning, and I know by the time we leave here Sunday our two-deep will have gotten a lot of reps."
The Raiders' "A" team was 1-5 as of late Saturday, but the "B" team, made up of younger players, made their coach proud by upsetting Cartersville, 25-19. It was the Purple Hurricanes' first loss in the tournament in two years.
Coahulla Creek also was competitive Saturday, winning two of its first five games. Entering their second year of GHSA play, the Colts did not, according to coach Jared Hamlin, respond very well at times a year ago in difficult situations. He is demanding a different level of effort, beginning Saturday.
"Our No. 1 goal this weekend is to keep our intensity up," he said. "We lacked some of that last year, to be honest. We want to see high-tempo intensity, no matter the situation. I don't care if we win a game in this tournament as long as our effort is there at all times."
These passing-league games are more suited offensively to spread teams featuring multiple-receiver sets and short, quick-developing patterns. While run-oriented teams such as Ridgeland and Dalton will not see the offensive benefit some teams will, each of the teams is getting a good evaluation of how its defensive secondary reacts.
"The biggest value for us this weekend is on the defensive side," Dalton coach Matt Land said. "We're going to play several spread teams, so at the very least it will help us with game-planning."
There is another possible benefit from competing this weekend. It's something Mariakis witnessed a year ago when his Panthers rolled to the Class AAAA championship game, a major factor that had at times been missing from his program.
"I want to see these guys learn to play together," said Mariakis, whose team was 2-2-1 going into its final matchup Saturday night. "When you've got all 11 guys playing together as one it's tremendous, and this is part of that process. The key is trusting each other, and that sounds easy, but it's one of the most difficult things to have as a team. If we can come out of here Sunday and be closer to being that close team, it will be well worth it."
Contact Lindsey Young at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 423-757-6296.