LOCUST GROVE, Ga. –Driving up to Warren Holder Park about 25 minutes after action was slated to start for the Adidas Airo 7v7 Georgia North Regional Tournament, and I could not help but to pinch myself and ask, ‘Is this late morning or early afternoon on a Tuesday in June, or is this 25 minutes into any marquee football matchup on any given Friday night in any given season?’
The parking lot was packed, and finding a parking space proved to be just as difficult as on a Friday night during a Union Grove vs. Ola football game.
The spread of 7-on7 football throughout the country, and in this particular case, Georgia, has given high school football its loose-fitting equivalent of the big-time AAU scene that has been a staple of the high school basketball offseason for years.
Much like in basketball, if you are a big-time football player or team, participating in the summer circuit of games and the interconnecting camps is a must. Taking part in these events provide opportunities for players to work on skill, build team unity, increase their recruiting profiles and, probably most important of all, show their coaches they are dedicated to getting better.
This is not to say that players and teams cannot get better and improve in any of the aforementioned areas if they do not participate in 7-on-7s, but it has become so commonplace now that for a lot teams, not participating would be akin to not scrimmaging in fall practice or not playing a non-region schedule before the games that matter.
The bottom line is 7-on-7 has now been permanently stitched into the football calendar.
And it’s not just the high schools that are taking to the football field in shorts, and perfecting their crafts in the hot summer heat. The NFL has OTA’s, and college football has player workouts. Perhaps taking a cue from the Texas high schools who were trailblazers for making 7-on-7 football an event, the professional and collegiate ranks have been right beside the nation’s high schools in increasing the amount of attention and importance given to summer 7-on-7 competition.
No wonder why it’s a popular belief that many college football players are contributing early in their careers because of the increased hours of practice time that 7-on-7 football provides. The experts say it’s maturing their game and skills at a faster rate.
Also, with the onus being on quarterbacks to carry the game and make quick decisions in these newfangled, high octane offenses, the summer stuff can lead to freshmen signal callers getting tons more intensive reps passing the ball, reading coverages and building chemistry with their receivers than their collegiate predecessors would have gotten some 25-30 years ago.
This may be why quarterbacks like Jacob Eason of Georgia and Jalen Hurts of Alabama can enroll in school early, and after a just a couple of months, outplay quarterbacks who have been on campus for several seasons.
Football is a year-round sport now. Has been for a while. And if players and teams want to be the best when championships are won during the season, they are going to probably have to compete year-round as well.
James Butler is a contributing staff writer for the Southern Crescent Buzz. You can reach him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter @JamesButlerJour.