- Mitch Sherman, ESPN Staff Writer
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As the patriarch of 7-on-7 football in Texas, Dick Olin takes little credit for the evolution of his summer game into a monstrous player-development resource with far-reaching effects at the high school, college and NFL levels.
Olin just wanted to give his players something to do in the offseason.
"When I speak at clinics, I ask a very simple question," said Olin, the first-year offensive coordinator at Stephen F. Austin and former high school coaching mainstay in Texas. "Drive through your neighborhoods. How many kids do you see working on the wishbone or the wing-T?
"If they don't have a way to throw and catch, kids are going to find other activities in the summer."
Olin considered this question in 1996 as head coach at Baytown Lee High School. He gathered a group of coaches at a Holiday Inn near Houston and proposed a 7-on-7 game.
It blossomed quickly in the Lone Star State after a 1996 tournament at the University of Houston. Two years later, groups of high school teammates participated in the first state tournament.
While 7-on-7 is growing nationally, it's just seemingly bigger in Texas. The 7-on-7 state tournament -- with its two 64-team brackets set for Thursday through Saturday on the Texas A&M campus in College Station -- grows each year in importance and relevance to the coaches who recruit Texas prep programs.
"It's immeasurable," Olin said.
Olin, in 18 seasons at Lee, coached nine quarterbacks who played at the Division I level, including Drew Tate of Iowa and Kansas State's Ell Roberson. They progressed in part because of the work accomplished in 7-on-7 play, Olin said.
The ability for the quarterback to be coached and work year-round, that's so important. And for the receivers to play in a system like that, it changes everything.
”-- Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin
"I've watched the whole thing change over time," Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said. "The ability for the quarterback to be coached and work year-round, that's so important. And for the receivers to play in a system like that, it changes everything."
High school coaches are prohibited from working directly with their players in the summer. The 7-on-7 teams are often coached by parents or former players who are not on staff at the schools.
As a result, a faction remains among Texas high school coaches who stand opposed to 7-on-7 play. But it's a shrinking group. Claude Mathis, the coach at DeSoto, which won a state title last summer, said he once questioned the merits of the summer game.
Then he learned more about it and realized how it could help his team in the fall, not to mention the opportunities it could create for his players to advance in football past high school.
"I'm glad to be a part of it now," Mathis said.
SMU coach June Jones first coached in Texas with the Houston Gamblers of the USFL in 1984. He later coached quarterbacks for the NFL's Houston Oilers but left the state for 20 years until returning in 2008.
In that time, the 7-on-7 game exploded. And with it, Jones said, so did the advancement of offensive and defensive skills among college prospects in Texas.
"The more you play the game, the better you get," Jones said. "These kids now have an opportunity to run their high school offenses and defenses in the summer. If you can do that, you're going to keep getting better and better.
"It's why so many quarterbacks come out of the state of Texas."
It's why so many quarterbacks come out of the state of Texas.
”-- SMU coach June Jones
Five of the 25 Elite 11 finalists competing this week in California play in Texas. In 2011, 12 of the 55 quarterbacks to start a game in the NFL came from Texas high schools -- more than from any other state.
"It helps a lot with timing and reading coverages, "said Syracuse-committed QB Zach Allen of Temple, Texas. "I feel like I've gotten a lot better because of it. Every time you throw the ball, you have a chance to improve."
Olin said he traces the advent of the spread offense directly to the growth of 7-on-7. Interestingly, the spread has evolved to provide some college teams with an effective running game, which is not an element of 7-on-7 football -- but yet another byproduct of the summer game.
"Look at Baylor as a great example," Jones said. "They're going to rush the ball for 300 yards, and it just so happens they throw it for 300 yards out of the same formations."
Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray, who took over the starting job as a redshirt freshman in 2010, honed his skills in 7-on-7 play as a Florida prep quarterback.
"That's when you start to see what you can really do as a quarterback," Murray said. "Can you throw the 18-yard out route? Can you throw the dig, the post, the take-off? It's a chance to experiment. It's a great thing."
It's an equalizer, too, providing opportunities for a variety of athletes. The 6-foot-4 receiver or defensive end always has a place in football; without 7-on-7, the speedy 5-foot-9 kid might not get as many looks.
"There's real value in it," said Sumlin, the 47-year-old Alabama native who coached at Houston for the previous four years. "You can hardly go anywhere and play pickup football in the summer. This has helped the sport. It's helped the development of the skill players and done great things for the game overall."
A far cry from the idea born in that Houston hotel some 16 years ago.