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County teams flock to 7-on-7 football, but the format has its limitations
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Denmark quarterback Ben Whitlock makes a pass during the Kirby Smart 7-on-7 Championship on June 13 at the University of Georgia. The Danes have yet to play a varsity contest, but they’re building chemistry and connections through 7-on-7 competitions. Photo courtesy Michelle Cripe.

The Denmark Danes have yet to play their first varsity football game, but they can already claim to be quarterfinalists.

Forsyth County’s newest team walked out of Sanford Stadium on June 13 after finishing as one of the final eight teams in the Kirby Smart 7-on-7 tournament, having defeated Booker T. Washington and Central Gwinnett.

It might be easy to get excited based on that result from a team that has yet to take a meaningful snap. But given the setting, head coach Terry Crowder knows better than to jump to conclusions.

“There’s no hitting, there’s no rushing the quarterback, there’s no tackling,” he said. “Those are very important in a football game. You have to be very careful with your assessment of how good you are based on 7-on-7.”

In the midst of the offseason, 7-on-7 football has taken hold of high school teams across Georgia and the rest of the country. Some feel that it’s too different from real football to gain any real merit among college recruiters and coaches. But to most high school coaches and players, it still has a place in their plans as a way to sharpen their skills and build rapport in the summer months.

The general format for 7-on-7 football is a altered version of the game that’s played on Friday nights. There is no tackling, no offensive line play, no rushing the passer and every play is run out of a passing formation. Quarterbacks typically have four seconds to throw the ball.

That’s good news for passers and receivers in spread offenses that want to further their development, but not as much for linemen, running backs or teams that prefer to work in the trenches.

North Forsyth has been staying busy in 7-on-7s, taking part in a UGA tournament and the Corky Kell tournament over the last few weeks. On Friday, the Raiders were at St. Pius X Catholic High School for another appearance, and in July, they’ll be at Hoover High School in Alabama — Colquitt County coach Rush Propst’s old stomping grounds. Despite the format’s shortcomings, coaches see it a prime chance to get some practice in against somebody else.

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Denmark receiver Ze’Vian Capers attempts to dodge a trio of Central Gwinnett defenders during the Kirby Smart 7-on-7 Championship on June 13 at the University of Georgia. Photo courtesy Michelle Cripe.
"It's certainly not real football by any stretch of means,” North coach Robert Craft said. “But we've played some of the best teams this summer already, between North Gwinnett and Parkview and Marietta. We'll play Mill Creek on Friday. You can't replace playing that competition. That competition's exceptional."

Craft has brought more 7-on-7 competition to North, where he said it hadn’t been done much prior to his arrival. He said his team’s perceived strength coming into the season is his offensive line, but still finds the format valuable for the kind of offense he runs and for getting valuable reps for potential starters.

"This year we're breaking in some new quarterbacks, so the ability for them to just get a ton of reps (helps) – we've probably done more 7-on-7s this summer than I've ever done to get these quarterbacks reps,” Craft said. "It's really valuable for our defense too. Other than just a game or two, we're going to pretty much see everybody who's going to spread the ball out. They need a lot of those reps as well."

For Denmark, 7-on-7s have not only been about players honing their skills, but also building team chemistry. Crowder likes the conditioning aspect of 7-on-7s and has done them since his days at Chattahoochee, but knows the potential drawbacks. Defenders don’t have to make the reads they’d normally have to, and quarterbacks don’t have to drop back since there’s no pressure. There’s potential to build bad habits if teams aren’t careful.

“It’s kind of a necessary evil if you want to throw the ball with your offense and stuff,” Crowder said. “I don’t like it as well for our defensive guys. When you know it’s pass and no run you tend to cheat and do some other things. There’s good and bad with it.”

For West Forsyth, the direct impact 7-on-7s have on its scheme might be the least of all the county’s teams. Under second-year coach Shawn Cahill, the Wolverines have prided themselves on their running game. While the offseason format doesn’t exactly lend itself well to their style of play, Cahill still sees value in getting his kids throwing.

“You still get to take a look at kids compete,” Cahill said. “We want to be able to throw the football around 18 times a game. If we could have a perfect game and dictate it, that would be the perfect number for us. We still want to be able to go out and compete, we still want our quarterbacks to read things so that when we get into a game, this is what they’re comfortable doing.

In the realm of college recruiting, there doesn’t seem to be much of an impact. While college recruiters and coaches certainly take a peek during 7-on-7 tournaments, they would much rather see game film.

“I’ve never had a college coach ask me for film on 7-on-7 or anything like that,” Craft said. “I think there’s limited value to the recruiting part of it. Mostly, it’s just for your team and your team getting better.”

Starting players are usually the ones soaking in the spotlight in 7-on-7 tournaments, but the events can also give coaches a chance to build depth in a limited setting. As an example, a running back that may be stuck behind other more experienced players may get moved to receiver based on their 7-on-7 performances.  If all goes well, it could lead to a breakout season when fall rolls around.

 “When you go through it, you’ll find one or two kids that surprise you,” Cahill said.