DALTON, Ga. - The Southeastern 7-on-7 Championships in Dalton offers a little bit of something for each of the 32 high school football teams involved, and the one common benefit of the passing-league competition was very evident Saturday at each of the event's four sites.
Even if a team had no aspirations of winning the competition, playing seven "games" Saturday in 90-degree heat was one strong workout.
"Conditioning is the No. 1 thing to get out of this, and this is a great opportunity to get out here and condition in a different way," Dalton coach Matt Land said. "We will play several no-huddle teams this year, and this is a way to prepare for that."
Land, whose team had a strong showing Saturday to earn a berth in the championship bracket today, also believes being able to compete against other teams will pay off and that any time together as a team is a positive.
"We came here to win this thing, even though we're more of a traditional team offensively and this isn't our strong suit," he said. "The GHSA limits what you can do competition-wise, so there is something to win here, so we're going for it. The third thing we get out of it -- and to me this is the biggest thing -- is to come out and just have fun. Our guys love being together, so we're going to have fun. There's not enough fun for kids anymore, so this is a great opportunity to do that as a team."
Two area teams with new coaching staffs were on display Saturday, and though the results were not what each wanted, the experience was a positive.
"This is the first chance we've had to go out and work against somebody else, so this gives us a chance to compete against another team," said Central coach Ryan Mallory, whose team will compete in today's consolation round. "The first game we didn't look so great, but we've progressed each game and they're starting to feel more comfortable working together."
The Pounders showed a strong defense under new coordinator Cortney Braswell, but the offense struggled until an 18-9 win over North Florida Christian in the fourth game of the day.
"Our defense is going to be pretty good and they are ahead of our offense right now," Mallory said. "Those guys have been making plays all day. We may not look very good right now but we have to realize most of these teams have been doing this for weeks and this is our first time out."
Likewise, new Coahulla Creek coach Chad Barger saw a silver lining despite a winless first session.
"We are a run-oriented football team, so everything we do in the passing game is off play-action, which doesn't translate very well to the 7-on-7 tournaments," he said. "It does help us in coverage and to learn how to compete and be more physical.
"We want them to get accustomed to getting after it a bit, and it's been sort of a shock to them. My goal is to see who is going to do what they're supposed to do and be coachable."
Baylor's Phil Massey came into the tournament knowing his run-first team wasn't a strong passing-league title contender, but the veteran coach wanted to see how his team approached the competition. While he was happy for the most part, Massey said he hoped the Red Raiders learned a lesson in a 21-15 loss to East Lincoln (N.C.) in their second game.
"This is not real football, but what it does is let us teach the kids about competing and effort," Massey said. "We've had some good moments, but we were kind of flat when we first came out and that's not Baylor football, so that's a good lesson to learn."
Most pleasing to Massey was the play of his two young cornerbacks, Preston Ballard and George Pettway, while returning quarterback Nick Tiano and receiver Gage Upshaw were in sync most of the day.
Contact Lindsey Young at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 423-757-6296.