A recent phenomenon, 7-on-7 tournaments have been amateur football's answer to the year-round ability of travel ball tournaments and circuit play employed by sports such as basketball, baseball and soccer.
It's an aspect of the ever-changing high school football landscape that Cartersville coach Joey King has grown to accept. Although, he clearly only puts so much stock into how a team performs without the presence of linemen, who coaches often credit for determining wins and losses more than almost any other position.
After watching his Canes go 2-3 Friday and lose in the first round of bracket play at the Corky Kell 7-on-7 tournament in Roswell, King let it be known that he doesn't put much weight in the result. For what it's worth, Cartersville lost in the second round of last year's edition after receiving a first-round bye.
Although, King did mention a few things he liked about the setup.
"7-on-7s are kind of crazy," he said. "Some people get caught up in all that stuff. They don't give a state championship trophy for these things. All of the social media that's out there, the trophies, the T-shirts, we want to be holding a trophy come December — not no 7-on-7 trophy."
The Corky Kell 7-on-7 tournament is possibly the most prestigious of its kind in the state, with only the top teams and players from Georgia receiving an invite. In Cartersville's pool alone, there were three quarterbacks with Division-I scholarship offers, including maybe the best rising sophomore signal caller in the country, Buford's Aaron McLaughlin.
Cartersville's loss to Class 7A power McEachern in bracket play was against QB Carlos Del Rio, who already has offers from Michigan and Florida, among other power-5 conference schools.
Even when teams didn't have highly recruited quarterbacks, all the programs were among the state's elite. A who's who of high school teams, including Grayson, Roswell, Blessed Trinity, Archer, Colquitt County and a number of other teams who have won or played for a state championship in the last couple of years were in attendance.
All that competition made for a quality learning experience for the Canes.
"The two things I like from it are: One, it puts your defense in a really, really tough position. If they can come out there and learn to respond in those circumstances, it's a plus," King said. "And then again, it's an opportunity to compete. Those are the two things I like about 7-on-7s. This one is run well, but we had a break from 11:30 to 3:30. ... Regardless of your circumstances, you've got to have the same mentality, same approach and be ready to compete as soon as they blow that whistle."
One of the biggest downsides to the 7-on-7 format is that it's not an adequate way to assess a team. Obviously, the linemen being absent is a big part of that. But it also takes away arguably half of any given team's playbook.
The nature of the play eliminates the running game, which clearly hampers some teams more than others, but even a team like Cartersville that likes to sling it around turns into Pete Carroll out of necessity.
"We played Buford, we had the ball first-and-goal on the 1-foot line twice and didn't score," King said. "I don't have a whole lot of tendencies as a coach, but I guarantee you, I'm 100 percent run in that situation.
"In this, you can't do that. They did a good job of keeping us out. We should have scored, we didn't, but there's a lot we can take from this and learn from it."
Cartersville's pool-play session began with a tough loss to Monroe Area, 31-25. Following their bye, the Canes defeated Kell, 21-11, and Norcross, 24-0. Buford, though, handed King's crew a 25-3 setback and the No. 14 seed in the 35-team bracket. McEachern eliminated Cartersville in the bracket play opener by a 25-6 final score.
There's more variance in 7-on-7 than its 11-on-11 counterpart, but it's easy to say the Canes were up and down all day. Considering three of the four teams in Cartersville's pool made the quarterfinals and Kell reached the semis, defeating McEachern along the way, King clearly has a talented, inexperienced group that is looking consistency.
"I'm always proud of the way our guys compete and fight," he said. "That's one thing I haven't had to worry about since I've been here. That culture is in these kids. They're going to fight. If you're keeping score, they're going to want to win. Again it comes down to, I wrote it on my sheet, missed opportunities. Some balls we should of caught, maybe some balls we should have thrown better. ... We got to learn how to do little things to take advantage of those opportunities when they come."
Cartersville always seemed likely to be facing an uphill battle in a tournament with the amount of high-classification talent that Corky Kell draws.
With Trevor Lawrence challenging to start at quarterback for Clemson, Rico Frye preparing to play running back for Bowling Green and the Canes' top three receivers having graduated, Cartersville threw out plenty of new faces into the sweltering heat.
"I just acknowledged [in the postgame huddle], Devonte Ross — a sophomore at corner — and Evan Slocum, another sophomore in the secondary. For those guys to come out here and compete against this talent level and do a really good job, that lets you know the future is bright. That's exciting to see," King said. "Marko Dudley and Marquail Coaxum did a great job in the secondary as well. Underneath, we had Harrison Allen, Marcus Gary, Sunni Moorehead, Jadon Martin. All those guys did really good. Desmond Winters, at times, came in and did some good work for us.
"On the offensive side of the ball, [quarterback] Tee [Webb] did a pretty good job on the day. He was up and down at times, but I thought he kept his head and made some pretty good decisions. We just missed some big opportunities. In these things, you can't do that. Your back is against the wall from the get-go, if you miss opportunities, you aren't going to make it.
"Jackson Lowe, I thought, had a solid day. I think Dadrian Dennis caught the ball some, made some good plays, Marcus Gary catching the ball out of the backfield, and Trendon Horton and Kaleb Chatmon outside. Kaleb made some big plays — we missed some opportunities that game [against McEachern] — but Kaleb made some big plays all day for us, too."
At the end of the day, the 7-on-7 tourney provided the Cartersville players who participated a glimpse at top-notch competition. It can only help those players and their coaches pinpoint areas to improve upon over the long, grueling summer ahead.
It's only mid-June, but the Canes know there's a lot of improvement needed over the coming months to replicate the program's recent success.
"This is a fun group to coach," King said. "A lot of brand-new faces and names for the hometown. Some guys that have competed together for a long time, and again, they're a talented bunch.
"This summer, this is the only big 7-on-7 thing we're doing. ... We can just keep working on us, and hopefully by the time August rolls around, we'll be ready."