Development and exposure
The rise of 7-on-7 leagues fills a need that high school football can't do alone
Soccer players had travel leagues. Basketball players had AAU. Baseball players had summer and fall leagues.
But what did football players have? They couldn't hit all year round. So the 7-on-7 passing league was born, and in a short period of time, it has become necessary.
In Texas, where the high school coaches organize school teams to be run by fathers and high schools play against each other without any out-of-state competition, the sport is considered necessary for players' skill development.
On muggy Texas summer days, many a high school quarterback can be found as the mouthpiece of a coaching staff, calling the plays under coaches' watchful eyes. They'll decide if he's fit to be the next Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III or Matthew Stafford -- all Lone Star products who have attributed some of their development to Texas 7-on-7 football.
"If you're doing 7-on-7, that means you're doing something in the summer for your kids, and that's great," said Dick Olin, often considered the founder of Texas 7-on-7. "That's why we did it. We had our center snap the ball, we had our running backs, our receivers, our quarterback. We worked our defense, we worked our offense all summer."
For the players, it's those watchful eyes of their varsity coaches that matter, not college recruiters. The crucial part is growing skill. And if it results in the high school team's improvement, that is where recruiting happens.
Tampa (Fla.) Plant varsity coach Robert Weiner attributes much of his high school team's success to the proliferation of passing leagues. And his players got recruited, but it was out of the high school. His school is the only one in the history of Florida football to pass for 4,000-plus yards for three consecutive seasons.
But Weiner sees other benefits of 7-on-7 competition.
"I would be not telling the truth if I didn't say that many of our guys have benefitted from the exposure they've gotten from the very, very high-profile 7-on-7 tournaments we've played, because they have," Weiner said. "They benefit from it a lot."
In the past few years these hubs have become one-stop shops for college coaches. Unlike a high school, in which a college coach can inquire about two, maybe three players, all-star teams can include 15-20 players any given coach might have interest in.
Ask B2G Elite, founded by former college football players Henry Bell and Ron Allen, how many Division-I scholarship offers their top two 7-on-7 teams picked up during last year's season.
"Almost 200," they say.
With college scholarships on the line, prospects flock to the coaches/facilitators of outfits like Team Tampa, B2G Elite and Core 6 Athletes.
This season alone, Core 6, based in Illinois, will have two players from Wisconsin and one from Missouri. When players such as Ole Miss commit Laquon Treadwell (Crete, Ill./Crete-Monee) cite Core 6 as part of the reason for being so widely recruited, others follow.
So have the college coaches.
On a daily basis, Core 6 founder Paul Szczesny receives phone calls, texts, Facebook messages or Twitter messages from major college coaches. They want to know: Who's the next big prospect out of Illinois? Who can we get in on early? Who's next?
For Watch List defensive back and Ohio State commit Damon Webb (Detroit/Cass Tech), playing on Michigan's all-star Maximum Exposure team was a no-brainer.
It's how a Midwest prospect picked up offers from LSU and Mississippi State as well as interest from Alabama, Florida and USC as a high school sophomore.
"It brings you a lot of exposure going around the country competing against other national recruits," Webb said. "It played a big part in my national recruitment."
A good 7-on-7 season can often be the difference between a regional recruit and a national recruit.
Watch List wide receiver Artavis Scott (Tarpon Springs, Fla./East Lake) saw his recruitment pick up after a season with Team Tampa, citing Team Tampa coach Woodrow Grady's involvement and 7-on-7 as "necessary" to his recruitment.
At the inception of passing leagues, college coaches were able to facilitate and host tournaments. Today that's not possible, but it's still a legitimate recruiting tool. Names and highlights come out of these tournaments, unknowns become known and college coaching staffs notice.
"It goes that those who get a lot of ink generally get recruited," Grady said. "That's just the truth."
And 7-on-7 standouts tend to get a lot of ink.
It's a part of the picture, not the whole. But one that's more impressive to a college recruiter than just hearing about offseason lifting and conditioning.
"Combines, 7-on-7's, camps all of them are a part of that total recruiting equation," said former Oregon football coach Mike Bellotti. "At 7-on-7's, typically you get to see that person against better competition. ... It's one part of the equation of the evaluation."
Bellotti led the Ducks when passing leagues and tournaments began to dominate the West Coast in the mid-2000s. He took notice.
Former Michigan coach Lloyd Carr was in a similar spot at Michigan. While the Wolverines never ran any 7-on-7 tournaments on campus, he saw how invaluable they were in evaluating talent, so much so that he implemented them as a part of Michigan's week-long summer camp for top prospects.
"They'd all get a lot of work against the passing game, which I think was a great thing in terms of developing the skills of the athletes," Carr said. "It gave all the skilled athletes the opportunity to be evaluated by the college coaches. ... It became a great way for us to evaluate the kids that came to our camp."
Evaluation and exposure, improvement and involvement. It's the dual nature of 7-on-7 football that has made it necessary for players' development and recruitment.
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