High School Football

The growing football phenomenon that is 7-on-7. But is it all good for the game?

Arlington Lamar head football coach Laban DeLay was making his rounds one evening last fall, watching his fifth and sixth graders at a local feeder school, when one of the officials comes up and asks him a question.

“How’s Jim Poynter doing?”

Poynter has been a volunteer coach for Lamar’s 7-on-7 team since 2002. Coaching staffs are restricted from instructing summer 7-on-7 workouts so teams rely on volunteers like Poynter.

The Vikings have made the state 7-on-7 tournament every year since it was created in 1998.

“Jim Poynter is a legend. His son graduated long ago, but he loves kids and is a positive contributor,” DeLay said.

Lamar made it to the championship bracket on June 29 and reached the second round.

Arlington High also reached the second round while Southlake Carroll finished as Division I state runner-up.

The Beginning

Arlington head coach Scott Peach started 7-on-7 at his school 16 years ago.

“It gives the kids an opportunity to play as close as possible to Friday nights.”

The Colts, Vikings, and Arlington Bowie have all enjoyed plenty of success with 7-on-7 over the past two decades.

Bowie has played at the state tournament 21 of 22 years.

Peach and Poynter’s friendship goes back two decades as well when Poynter’s son played at Lamar for Peach’s father, hall-of-fame coach Eddy Peach.

“It took shape 20 years ago when Kenny Perry was coaching with dad,” Peach said. “Then he moved to Bowie and the three schools are all tied into 7-on-7. We’re all finding success for the kids in the summer and it’s been a priority.”

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Arlington qualified for the state 7-on-7 tournament in College Station. Courtesy

Continuing to Grow

This was the second straight year that three divisions were formed as 128 teams clinched a state berth.

A&M Consolidated, Sunnyvale and Poth won this summer.

“It’s great for the state. You have teams across the state from far west to deep south,” said Carroll head coach Riley Dodge, who played 7-on-7 during his high school days at Carroll.

The Dragons have won two state titles, including the inaugural tournament in 1998.

“We use to have it at Texas A&M and it was a lot smaller,” Dodge said. “It’s a chance for the kids to come out and compete, and get ready for the fall.”

It’s also a great way for the players to improve time management.

“We have no coaches and we let the kids figure it out. We find out a lot from our kids managing a little 7-on-7 game,” Dodge said. “But there’s a big emphasis now on 7-on-7 and a lot of pride in it. We see what we can do and how we can translate it to Friday nights.”

“It’s also a good way for the guys to bond,” DeLay added.

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Lamar WR and OU commit Trevon West goes up for a TD catch against Belton in the 7-on-7 state tournament. Brian Gosset bgosset@star-telegram.com

Safety First

Whether it’s 11-man, 6-man or 7-on-7, the game is safer than ever.

Each player wears soft-shell helmets.

“I like the precaution they’re taking with our kids, using the soft-shell helmets. It’s a great product,” Peach said.

“7-on-7 continues to grow and we’re excited about the future, but for us, everyone’s wearing helmets,” DeLay added. “Our fifth and sixth graders to the middle school and high school. We do whatever we can to protect our kids.”

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Mansfield clinched a 7-on-7 state tournament berth at the Hurst state qualifier at LD Bell, Saturday June 15, 2019. Brian Gosset bgosset@star-telegram.com

Select 7-on-7

Wherever you look, kids are playing sports year around from club volleyball, club soccer, AAU, select softball and select baseball, and now it has translated to football.

The concept is the same: Get the best players on your team and go win a championship.

But some football coaches are against it.

“With all the work and leagues we do, I think we do enough for 7-on-7 at the high school,” Dodge said. “I don’t know if it’s necessary to have select teams. You start to see some bad habits as well because you’re not working with your guys.”

“I think there are more negatives than positives,” DeLay added. “With AAU and select, I just question what their motives are. Is it about the money.”

The 7-on-7 tournaments are also a big hit at national camps such as The Opening Finals, which was held at The Star. It concluded with the 7-on-7 championship game on July 3.

“Truth is I just want my boys to play football,” Peach said. “As long as we’re all pulling the rope in the same direction, I’m in favor of it.”

Recruitment

The biggest flaw is recruiting and it happens in every state, in every sport and at all levels.

DeLay suggested the NCAA step in.

“They need to have a policy that mandates the college coaches go through high school and not select,” he said.

“It hasn’t hit us, but talking to a few of my buddies, it’s affected their programs,” Dodge added. “Anything can happen when you’re talking to young kids like that.”

Peach said he talks to all his players to make sure first and foremost they know they’re Arlington Colts.

“Some have reached out to my players through select about going to their school, but I tell them they’re Arlington High School football players and don’t confuse that,” he said. “That’s when the rope is being pulled into two different directions, when select becomes more of a recruiting tool. As long as we’re communicating with each other, I want them to have the opportunity to play against the best, play against elite competition so they can get better.”

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Born and raised in Hawaii, Brian Gosset graduated from Northern Arizona University with a degree in journalism before coming to Texas in 2014. He’s covered high school sports — yes, pretty much every high school sport — for the Star-Telegram ever since.
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