A practice drill created for the offense has molded into a league in the South, and now the idea of traveling select teams and tournaments with national titles has come to Washington.
PUYALLUP — Football isn’t just for the fall anymore.
Twenty teams, spanning from California to Canada, were expected to participate this weekend in the second annual Northwest Showcase 7v7 tournament at Kent-Meridian High School. But this isn’t your father’s or even older brother’s version of the sport.
Once a drill in practice, the popularity of omitting tackling and linemen to play seven offensive players against seven defensive players in a competitive league or tournament has reached Washington.
7-on-7 football at a glance
Love football but unfamiliar with passing leagues? You’re not alone in the Northwest. A practice drill for the offense turned into a league down South and has blossomed into traveling select teams and tournaments with national titles.
Linemen, tackling, equipment and, in most cases, pass-rushing are omitted from the game. Rules vary per league or tournament, but running or kicking the ball isn’t allowed.
The point system is set up to award defensive and offensive plays, quarterbacks having to release the ball within four seconds.
This weekend’s event
More teams have sprouted in Washington the past five years. The second annual Northwest Showcase 7v7 tournament is being held at Kent-Meridian this weekend. The 20 teams were drawn from Canada to California and the top four will qualify for the National Football Association 7v7 National Championship in Florida in June.
• 24 players each side. For boys only.
• Games are an 18-minute running clock, followed by two minutes that have stoppages for incomplete passes. One timeout.
• Quarterbacks have four seconds to release the ball or the play is blown dead and there is a loss of down.
• Touchdowns are still awarded six points, with an additional point for a play from the 3-yard line.
• Teams are awarded two points for PATs from the 10-yard line.
• The defense can earn two points for pass deflections and three points for interceptions, but there aren’t any points for interception returns.
Games are officiated by two referees and the field is configured to 40 yards in length, with a 10-yard end zone and hash marks by high-school dimensions.
The top four teams from the two-day event qualify for the National Football Association 7v7 National Championship at IMG Academy in June.
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At the epicenter of Kent’s event is Reggie Jones, who played cornerback at Portland State and was part of the New Orleans Saints’ 2009 Super Bowl championship team. He founded Rise Football Academy to offer personal training to players and operates a select football team.
“We’re so far behind the times,” said Jones, noting states in the south now have 7-on-7 leagues for grade-school kids.
Rewind to the beginning of Jones’ career, and you’ll understand his push for a 7v7 tournament in Washington. He only won two games while playing for Kent-Meridian High, graduating in 2004.
The warehouse off the main drag in Puyallup where Jones operates his program — sharing space with a baseball academy — is basically his childhood wish list. There’s the 7-on-7 sanctioned 40-yard, artificial turf field, a complete weight room upstairs, office space and tools to run every drill utilized to evaluate talent at an NFL combine.
Would this setup have helped his career as a high-school kid?
“I know it would,” he said. “To be able to still get out and play D-I, that was just off of perseverance and being really gifted. … (College) coaches always say we’re not doing enough football-related stuff in Washington, so we can’t accurately evaluate kids. This allows them to evaluate because they’re going and playing against kids in Texas or California. You think he’s better? Line up, let’s go.”
Pylon 7on7 Football proclaims itself as the originator of the concept as a club sport. It’s in the midst of its 11th national-championship series and has alumni like New York Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr. and Minnesota Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, whose high-school select team won the 2010 title.
NFA 7v7, which has member teams coached by Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, originated in 2011 and didn’t have a tournament stop in the Northwest until Jones applied last year to be a host manager. But those are just some of the national tournaments.
Within the state of Washington, there’s also NW Elite Football that operates a 14-team passing league with a mix of club and high-school 7-on-7 teams. Bothell and Eastside Catholic have teams in the North division while Peninsula and Sumner are part of the South.
Due to Washington Interscholastic Activities Association provisions, a high school’s coaching staff can’t also lead a 7-on-7 team. Often a recent grad will coach the games, which have paid officials making calls by WIAA rules.
According to coaches, there aren’t formal 7-on-7 tournaments or leagues in Eastern Washington yet.
“It’s an interesting time for 7-on-7,” said Spencer Crace, who’s the offensive coordinator at Sumner. “We’re not seeing our own kids play together anymore. Now you’re seeing select teams, just like AAU (basketball) and select baseball teams.
“There’s some good from it, definitely,” Crace continued. “We have kids going up against other kids from other schools that are some of the top athletes at those other schools, so it helps individual kids get better. From a coach’s side, we want to see our kids get ready for Friday nights. In the offseason, it’s that team camaraderie, building trust and getting better as a team. Man, I want my kid catching footballs from our quarterback.”
Connor Wedington, who compiled a school-record 4,035 career rushing yards at Sumner, said he knows his 7-on-7 tape playing for Ford Sports Performance out of Bellevue didn’t help him secure a scholarship from Stanford. But he readily credits the personal training with owner Tracy Ford and competing with Washington commits Hunter Bryant (Eastside Catholic) and Salvon Ahmed (Juanita).
“It puts you on another level,” Wedington said.
Jones said 120 kids in his academy made all-league teams this season, and he points to junior Tre Mason (Graham-Kapowsin) as the personification of the Rise Academy philosophy.
Mason, a 6-foot-1 wide receiver, was on junior varsity last year. He made varsity this season and was named second-team All-South Puget Sound League. Mason also made Jones’ select 7-on-7 team, traveling to Vegas for a tournament during the winter break and is participating this weekend.
“The competitive piece was missing out of my game,” Mason said during a Friday training at Rise. “I finally started to get that mindset here, and that’s what makes me successful. I’m lining up against guys who are getting scholarships. I thought I was really good until I saw the people I was going up against.”
Families chasing scholarships is a motivator behind club football just as it is in swimming, baseball, basketball, tennis, golf and softball. And the costs nationally are similar, in personal trainers charging up to $1,000 and tacking on another $150 to $700 or more to participate in a 7-on-7 team to cover travel and lodging. Tournament organizers like Pylon and NFA can charge teams another $1,000 to participate.
“We’re not in it for money,” said Cory Wightman, who’s in his second year as director of the NFA 7v7 National Championship based in Florida.
“If you’ve tried running a 7-on-7 event, you will learn very quickly that the goal is not to make revenue,” said Wightman of payments to rent facilities, hire officials and distribute T-shirts. “We don’t charge for our national championship, so the whole point of the initial membership fee ($150 per team) is to cover costs at the national championship.”
While Pylon 7on7 Football boasts 1,500 of its athletes advanced to play Division I college football and another 175 played in the NFL, 7-on-7 tournaments are not a high priority for recruiting.
Jones will have some Under Armour All-American Game selection committee members in attendance Sunday for the loser-out championship round of his tournament. And talent evaluators who work for popular websites used in recruitment — Scout, Rivals, ESPN, etc. — build player profiles from watching games.
“Frankly, we could (not) have cared less as recruiters,” said Torrey Myers, who was a UW assistant coach and is now the inaugural head football coach at North Creek High in Bothell after a coaching stint with the Baltimore Ravens.
“The two fundamental things that are missing are blocking and tackling,” Myers continued. “You can find out a lot about players by watching them do it. I always prefer them to participate in other sports at the school. The concept of specialization is hurting every sport, and if you look at any football player that’s in the NFL, the percentage of those guys that are two- and three-sport athletes is very high.”
Jones has heard all positive and negative debates about 7-on-7 and agrees with local high-school coaches. Tournaments like this weekend should be used to develop skills and keep football players active and out of trouble.
“This is extra, at the end of the day,” he said. “I understand why coaches are mad because there are (select teams) that say, ‘You come with us, we’re a priority.’ I don’t want to burn bridges with coaches. I want to be an aide. But if you think that competition is bad, then that’s a problem. That’s all this is — competition during a time when kids aren’t doing anything.”