Even with the tournament’s deep talent level, Cartersville High has been the most successful team the past two seasons, winning the tournament in 2012 and finishing as the runner-up in 2013.
However, if Cartersville is to continue its run of success in 2014, it will need to have an almost entirely new group of players emerge once the tournament begins today in Dalton.
Cartersville’s quarterback the past two season was Brooks Barden, who has graduated along with his three top targets from the 2013 season, T.L. Ford, Mark Quattlebaum and Gordon Gray.
In addition to the new personnel, the team is still learning the system of first-year head coach Joey King.
“The guys that we’ve got have been responding well all summer and coming along with a lot of progress, so we’re definitely excited about that. We lost two big receivers and a starting quarterback. Obviously, in a 7-on-7, that’s pretty tough,” King said. “We’re looking for some experience at certain positions.
“Offensively, we’re trying to figure out what we got and how consistent we can continue to be.”
Cartersville’s greatest strength for the upcoming season will likely be its running back tandem of Kansas State commit Kalin Heath, a rising senior, and junior, potential future D-I prospect Tiamon Pennymon, a rising junior. However, for purposes of a 7-on-7 tournament, the running game is inconsequential as each play is a passing play with five eligible receivers.
Each possession starts at the defensive team’s 40-yard line, regardless of where the opposing team’s possession ends. A first-down is achieved by reaching the 20-yard line. If a touchdown occurs, the point-after-touchdown attempt is a play from the 10-yard line. A two-point conversion attempt is begun at the 15-yard line. Games are 22 minutes long and the clock runs non-stop until the final minute of play. The quarterback has four seconds to pass the ball once it is snapped.
Because the format of a 7-on-7 tournament typically benefits high octane passing offenses, the exercise is offensive natured.
That is precisely why King believes his team’s participation in the tournament will benefit its defense.
“I think it helps the defense more than anything. It’s hard on the defense, so it helps the defense more,” King said. “You’re supposed to go out there and line up against coverage, but there’s nobody [rushing the quarterback] in your face. It’s not realistic for a quarterback to just sit back there and get four seconds to throw, so the pressure is on the defense to perform well and that’s why I like it from a defensive standpoint.”
The event will be particularly important as Cartersville’s defenders have another opportunity to further grasp new defensive coordinator Conor Foster’s system.
“You get to see a lot of formations and sets [in the 7-on-7 tournament]. We have a chance to line up and make sure we’re playing our base coverages and experiment with some other coverages that we’re trying to get in, but basically get experienced in getting lined up and being good at what we do,” King said. “Just seeing different teams and have an opportunity to get a lot of reps, I think 7-on-7 is great for your defense that way. Right now, the more reps we get, the better we’re going to be.”
The high level of competition drawn to the event also will allow for Cartersville to be challenged.
“There’s some big schools that come. We play a school out of Louisiana, a school out of Virginia. We play Glades Central out of Florida. There’s teams from all over that come to this thing,” King said. “When I got here, I knew that Cartersville had participated in the past in the tournament, and I looked into it a little bit, and it’s a pretty neat deal that they put on up there.”
Although the tournament will be used as a learning experience, King still expects his players to compete and hopes to find a balance between winning and improving.
“Every time you step in between the white lines, you want to have success,” he said. “We want to go win and be successful. You want to win every game, but to be honest with you, there’s so much junk in the 7-on-7 that people get caught up in, it’s not realistic. It’s not Friday night lights. It’s not 11-on-11, but at the same time, anytime you’re competing, you want to win.
“My goal is, yeah we want to win, but I want to make sure we’re getting better at what we do. A lot of people go out there and they play two-man the whole time. They run little bitty dink and dunk passes. Once the lights come on on Friday night, that stuff isn’t realistic. We’re going to go out there and do what we do and try to continue from spring and try to build on that.”