The official start to the high school football season won’t get underway until August 1, but summer workouts have begun and competition heated up Wednesday at Scott Braswell Stadium during the Powerade 7-on-7 Championship Series at Hoggard High School.
Wilmington was stop number four on a two-month, eight-city tour across the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic regions. It’s the first time the Port City hosted a tournament of this kind and nearly every Mideastern Conference team was represented at the event, including Hoggard, New Hanover, Laney, South Brunswick, West Brunswick and North Brunswick. Six other programs from across the eastern part of North Carolina were also the event, which ran from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m as teams looked to get an early step ahead when it comes to timing routes, communication and overall camaraderie.
“We really thought Wilmington was a perfect fit for what we’ve been trying to build over the last few years and Powerade has been a great partner working with us to grow our championship series,” said Marcus Kimbrough, Head of Sales and Marketing for AiDeuM Event Marketing. “Hoggard came down to our event in Myrtle Beach last year and Coach [Craig] Underwood thought his school and venue would be a great fit.”
The 7-on-7 program that many high schools run during the off-season is played without pads and receivers are downed by one-hand or two-hand touch. 7-on-7 is a passing-only game as there are no offensive rushing plays and defenders cannot rush the quarterback. This type of passing camp has become one of the favorite methods of evaluation and chemistry-building during summer contact days.
“We saw potential for it to be a really great event and did everything we could to get all the local schools involved,” said Underwood, who’s heading into his second season as Hoggard’s head football coach. “This is something we’re hoping to build off of each year.”
On offense, there is one center who snaps the ball, one quarterback and a combination of running backs, tight ends and wide receivers equaling five players – basically, all of the players on a regulation offense except for the offensive guards and tackles.
Defensively, seven players are used in any combination of linebackers, safeties, and corner backs. Defenders cannot rush the quarterback, but the quarterback must throw the ball within four seconds of the snap of each play.
For programs that are rebuilding or undergoing a coaching transition, like at South Brunswick with Coach Rocky Lewis taking over this season, he used the 7-on-7 process to determine what assets he has to work with moving into practice this August.
At New Hanover, while the Wildcats’ defense remains largely intact following a trip to the 4A East Regional last season, the offense has undergone an overhaul as a new offensive line and quarterback will take over. However, don’t sleep on New Hanover as several skill position players are back, including Freddie Taylor, Wiz Vaughn, Javeon Hall, Keegan Santos and Lamont Howard.
Hoggard is using this time to build off the chemistry already developed in the backfield with quarterbacks Bryant Sasser and Josh Jones back under center in addition to senior running backs Tony Allen and Rashod Wallace, who both nearly eclipsed the 1,000 yard rushing mark last season. The Vikings are looking for a few players to step up at wide out and tight end to pair up with Collin Hairr, who had a team-high 28 receptions one year ago.
“Our message all summer long has been to embrace the grind,” Underwood added. “The weight room and speed training is another important factor to the summer. There’s no doubt when you get a day like this with quality competition, guys are starting to get a hang of what varsity level speed is like. There’s no contact, but there’s really a lot of fast-paced games out here and I think that’s great for our guys to get ready for Friday night.”
With North Brunswick slated to join the area schools inside the Mideastern Conference in a few years, the Scorpions used the opportunity Wednesday to get a good look at some of the competition they’ll be facing when the new conference realignment takes effect in 2017. Coach Larry Brock thinks his program should match up in seasons to come. The North Brunswick will again take part in the annual BB&T Football Jamboree later this summer.
In Shallotte, West Brunswick falls into the category of using 7-on-7 passing camps to evaluate talent as the Trojans will go to rising junior Owen McDowell at quarterback. Sophomore Dylan Jeffries is also expected get some reps behind center this fall.
Trevon Greene is also one of those players back in uniform with varsity experience at the quarterback position following a solid year at Laney. He’ll be competing for the job alongside two other teammates, including standout Sherod Sidbury. When it comes to skill players at running back and wide out, the Buccaneers will again be searching for someone to step alongside Imeek Watkins, who totaled nearly 1,000 yards of offense as a junior.
In addition to the multiple games each team played during Wednesday’s workout, lineman and other position players used the Powerade Championship Series to showcase their strength and speed. Players competed in the 185-pound bench press, medicine ball toss, shuttle run, 20-yard dash and broad jump.
Following the trip to Wilmington, Powerade 7-on-7 Championship Series heads to Raleigh and Norfolk, Virginia on June 25, with an invitational in Charlotte set for July 14-16.