The rise of the Fox Sports Southwest 7-on-7 Texas state championship has been a steady one for a dozen years, as the event has grown in size and influence. The 12th annual event begins Thursday on the campus of Texas A&M in College Station.
Executive director Doug Stephens has been there since its inception.
"I don't believe there is anything else like it," he said. "Back in 1998, when we got started with this thing, we had to put a lot of the gas in the car ourselves, so to speak. Now we don't have to look for teams. It's established."
It has also helped to establish a tradition of the Lone Star State producing great quarterbacks, and to facilitate the emergence of the spread offense in Texas, and perhaps even the entire Big 12. In the Class of 2009, a total of 14 Texas signal-callers signed with BCS conference programs. That was in the same academic year Texas high school products Graham Harrell (Texas Tech/5,111 passing yards), Colt McCoy (Texas/3,859), Chase Daniel (Missouri/4,335) and Todd Reesing (Kansas/3,888) lit up Big 12 defenses.
"Part of the reason we had this idea was that there was an article written that the state of California produced the most NFL quarterbacks, and Texas was No. 2," Stephens said. "It really wasn't even close behind California, though. So I visited with some of the coaches out there and we talked about how they did 7-on-7 and had been doing it since the 1970s.
"I do think it carried a greater impact across the state."
Part of what made so much sense about doing 7-on-7 to Stephens was the timing of the upcoming football season.
"This is still touch football for me," he said. "But what made sense about it was that football season is coming up. You have summer basketball and summer baseball, but the start of those sports are further down in the academic year. Football is right around the corner."
Cole Hubble (Bandera, Texas) threw for 2,100 yards and 38 touchdowns for his high school team last year. He will be involved in his fourth consecutive 7-on-7 state tournament and says it helps prepare him for the forthcoming season.
"It helps with my vision and my timing," Hubble said. "It especially helps me get into a groove with my receivers. It also gets you in shape for the offseason. I love it. It's the closest thing I can get to real football."
This year's event will have a total of 96 teams competing for state titles into two divisions. The Division II tournament (Class 1A-3A) will feature 32 teams, while the Division I tournament will feature 64. Stephens said there is a strong possibility that the Division II tournament will expand to 64 teams next year, giving the event 128, but added that he could not see it expanding much more.
Teams advance to the state championship by winning qualifying tournaments. One of those teams this year is DeSoto, which is making its first appearance in the tournament and features University of Texas receiver commit Darius Terrell.
"You'd be surprised how competitive it really is out there," Terrell said. "It's competition, so you get out there and get after it, regardless if you have pads on or not."
Class of 2010 players to watch
With many high-level teams, it stands to reason that there would be plenty of high-level prospects. Here are some of the Class of 2010 prospects to look for heading into the event:
Jordan Jolly, WR, Fort Bend, Texas/Elkins
Montra Nelson, WR, Arlington, Texas/Bowie (committed to Oklahoma State)
Darren Thornhill, ATH, Cedar Park, Texas/Cedar Park
Jordan Leslie, WR, Tomball, Texas/Tomball
Sam Holl, S, Katy, Texas/Katy
Zach McMillan, CB, Sugar Land, Texas/Fort Bend Dulles (committed to Houston)
Darian Lazard, QB/ATH, Pearland, Texas/Dawson (committed to Utah)
T.C. Robinson, CB, Abilene, Texas/Cooper (committed to Baylor)
JaTerian Douglas, RB, Arlington, Texas/Lamar
Desmond Martin, S, Round Rock, Texas/Stony Point
Kacy Rodgers, CB, Southlake, Texas/Carroll
Austin Otto, TE, Denton, Texas/Guyer
Darius Terrell, WR, DeSoto, Texas/DeSoto (committed to Texas)
Adrian White, CB, DeSoto, Texas/DeSoto (committed to Texas, Under Armour All-American)
Lache Seastrunk, RB, Temple, Texas/Temple
Carrington Byndom, CB, Lufkin, Texas/Lufkin (committed to Texas)
Quinn Trimble, WR, Lufkin, Texas/Lufkin
Aaron Benson, LB, Cedar Hill, Texas/Cedar Hill (committed to Texas, Under Armour All-American)
Blake Roberts, LB, Tyler, Texas/Lee (committed to TCU)
Chris Dinkins, S, Tyler, Texas/Lee (committed to TCU)
Noah Cheshier, TE, Wylie, Texas/Wylie
Case McCoy, QB, Graham, Texas/Graham
Cole Hubble, QB, Bandera, Texas/Bandera
Austin Gray, WR, Abilene, Texas/Wylie
Matt Joeckel, QB, Arlington, Texas (committed to Texas A&M)
Ben Malena, RB, Cedar Hill, Texas (committed to Texas A&M)
JC Shurburtt covers football recruiting for ESPN Scouts Inc.