2011 Texas commit David Ash at the Texas 7-on-7 State Championship (Photo by the author).
The Tournament: In early July every year, the world of 7-on-7 football in the state of Texas descends en mass to College Station for the last major event of the summer three weeks before the start of fall practice. 7-on-7 teams, their families, and a variety of coaches make the trip, as do most of the recruiting analysts in the region and a smattering of national types. For three wild days, those inclined can gorge themselves on football in preparation for the rapidly approaching season ahead.
The sheer amount of football is almost overwhelming, with 16 games being played simultaneously during pool play and the number of teams steadily dwindling on the way to the finals in both the winners and the consolation brackets. It's a mass of organized chaos that somehow manages to run smoothly and often ahead of schedule.
Fortunately for those in attendeance, the weather was extremely cooperative over the course of the three days. Despite rainstorms in the area on both Thursday and Friday, besides a brief misting on the first day, the A&M campus avoided any major rain storms and the Thursday cloud cover kept the temperatures comfortable in the mid-80s. The next two days featured much more sunlight, but the temperatures thankfully stayed in the low 90s a year after the tournament was played in sweltering heat of more than 100 degrees.
Though it's a relatively young event -- the tournament began in 1998 -- the list of alumni reads like a who's who of talented skill position talent in the state. Notable Longhorns who have participated in the event include Tarrel Brown, Garrett Gilbert, Brian Carter, Michael Griffin, Drew Kelson, Colt McCoy, Tre' Newton, Aaron Williams, Fozzy Whittaker, Henry Melton, and Jordan Shipley.
Current NFL players like Martellus Bennett, Ashton Youbouty, Brandon Pettigrew, Dez Bryant, and Chase Daniel. The number of prospects who will play FBS football after leaving high school is easily several hundred.
The Format: Those wondering about not only the proliferation of spread offenses in the high school and college ranks in the state of Texas and the abundance of quarterbacks capable of throwing 40 or more passes a game need look no further than this format. It's the quarterback and six receivers throwing the ball every play against seven defenders.
Two 20 minute halves make up each game. Teams begin on the 45-yardline and can pick up two first downs at the 15 and 30 yardlines, given three downs to do so. Four seconds is the limit a quarterback may hold the ball. After scoring, the team may take a one-point conversion from the two yardline or two-point conversion from the 10.
Players are touched down by one or two hands and pushing or tackling is not allowed, Neither is blocking.
The Field: For the first time, the FOX Sports Southwest 7-on-7 State Championship of Texas included 64 teams in both the Division I (4A-5A) and Division II (1A-3A) fields, a total of 128 teams from every corner of the state. After participating in three games of pool play, the top two teams advanced to the single-elimination bracket, while the two bottom teams entered the consolation bracket. To win each of the brackets, teams play five games on the second day.
The teams represent the top collections of skill position talent, featuring powerhouse programs in Division I like Brownwood, Navasota, Gilmer, Carthage, and Celina, the champions last season, as well as a program that Longhorns fans should know in Houston Second Baptist, Connor Wood's alma mater. The list of Division II teams is even more impressive and represents many of the top programs in the state, including talent-rich DeSoto, Lake Travis, The Woodlands, Richland, Abilene, Lufkin, Stony Point, and Southlake Carroll.
The Players: Unfortunately for Texas fans, only three of the 128 teams that qualified have Texas recruits participating -- Brownwood's Jaxon Shipley, Carthage's Kendall Thompson, and Belton's David Ash. Other notable attendees included Klein Collins' Charles Jackson, Lewisville Hebron's David Jenkins, Abilene's Herschel Sims, Lake Travis' Michael Brewer, Stony Point's PL Lindley, Whitehouse's Trey Metoyer, and a host of other players who will star on Saturdays in the near future.
The Champions: No single player was more dominant at the event than Brownwood's Jaxon Shipley. Whether he was commanding double and triple teams to open up his teammates or using his route-running ability to beat all those defenders keying on his every move, he helped Brownwood to an undefeated record at the tournament that culminated with a narrow victory over Cameron Yoe in the championship game, 34-32. After a goalline stand that kept Cameron Yoe from extending a late lead, Brownwood scored on the last play of the game. The late touchdown pass helped Brownwood quarterback Graylon Brown earn Division II MVP, an award that easily could have gone to the highly-productive Shipley, who could have scored as many as 30 touchdowns over the eight games his team played in College Station over two days.
2011 Lake Travis wide receiver Conner Floyd was far from the biggest name among the wide receivers in attendance, but he was as productive as anyone save Shipley and Whitehouse's Trey Metoyer, scoring four touchdowns in the championship game against DeSoto, 42-39 and taking home the Division I MVP award in the process. The Austin-area school boasts their fair share of talent, but no other team present at the state tournament had as many FBS prospects as DeSoto, a team that featured three FBS commits at the wide receiver position alone and go five deep with quality at the position. And that's not even mentioning athletes like Devin Rushing and Antoine Jimmerson, both threats to take it the distance every time they touch the ball.
Despite DeSoto's talent, the well-oiled Lake Travis machine was too much, with Floyd's big plays leading the way and 2012 wide receiver Griffin Gilbert providing the red-zone target. Making everything click was Texas Tech commit Michael Brewer, perhaps the most impressive quarterback at the event and the result was the first 7-on-7 state championship for the school, surprising given the talent that preceeded Brewer at quarterback for the Cavaliers, most notably Garrett Gilbert, who was in attendance supporting his younger brother and alma mater.
Biggest disappointment: Last season, Round Rock Stony Point used their 7-on-7 championship to gain momentum for a season that resulted in a deep tournament run that fell just short when their propensity for careless penalties finally could not be overcome. This season, it was a much different story for the Tigers, who failed to advance out of their pool and then lost in their second consolation bracket contest, looking confused and out of sorts in blowing a lead against Edinburg.
Particularly disappointing about their ouster was the fact that in terms of pure talent, the Tigers well outclassed the school from the Valley, who had not a single player who looked like a college prospect. What they did have was a will to win and a girtty toughness that helped them overcome the more talented team.
Ultimately, the loss of Desmond Martin, Kevin White, and Jaylen Harris in the second left Stony Point vulnerable to big passing plays, a problem compounded by a seeming lack of communication and blown assignments. And on the offensive side of the ball, quarterback/tight end Aaryn Sharp was not his usual self after two off-season knee surgeries, leaving Stony Point without the big-time red-zone threat that departed Gerard Shillow presented last season. Add in the loss of other contributors at the position and despite their obvious talent, Stony Point was the biggest underachiever of the tournament.