By Alex Byington
Killeen Daily Herald
Along with the onset of triple-digit temperatures, summer also brings with it an even hotter commodity - 7-on-7 football.
An ever-growing fascination around the country, 7-on-7 passing leagues create a wide array of opinion among high school coaches.
But for area coaches like Gatesville athletic director Kyle Cooper, 7-on-7 is an opportunity to develop his team during the offseason.
"What I like about 7-on-7 is it brings guys together, they bond more and they can count on each other more, and the continuity and team chemistry - that's my No. 1 reason for playing 7-on-7," said Cooper, who's Hornets have already qualified for the 7-on-7 state tournament July 14-16 in College Station.
Gatesville will compete in the Waco Midway area league, beginning Thursday, while several of the other area schools will participate in the Cen-Tex Passing League beginning at 5 p.m. today at Copperas Cove High School.
The four-week Cen-Tex league will be continue each ensuing Tuesday at Belton (June 14), Killeen (June 21) and Shoemaker (June 28) with each team expected to play three to four games a piece. Among the teams participating will be host schools Belton, Cove, Killeen and Shoemaker along with Temple, Salado and Waco University to complete the seven-team league.
At Cove, there is also expected to be a lineman challenge and a kicking competition, allowing more than just the offensive and defensive playmakers a chance to compete.
Seven-on-7 competition allows teams to build chemistry and timing among its offensive and defensive playmakers between the end of spring practices and the beginning of the season in August.
For Gatesville, which as a school in 3A or below didn't have a spring practice, 7-on-7 is the first opportunity players have to reconnect and run set plays and defensive formations.
"We don't get any real sense of competing (during spring), and what kids can do under pressure and under the gun, and so it gives you that aspect of competition which brings kids closer together," Cooper said.
In 7-on-7, where there is no offensive line and no pass rush, offensive players are given four seconds to complete a pass, with many using set plays and routes they'd normally run during high school competition.
"I always like to see what they come up with on their own, and sometimes we've taken that and made it a part of our offense," Copper said.
And while many head coaches will be in attendance, there is to be no direction coming from them, instead watching from the comfort of fold-up chairs.
"It's more of us seeing them out there and playing as much as they can," said Belton athletic director/head football coach Rodney Southern. "For us, what we do offensively, it's a tremendous benefit whenever we can get out and throw."
For teams like Belton, Killeen and Gatesville, who are trying to replace longtime starting quarterbacks and reliable options at receiver, the time spent together in 7-on-7 can be a saving grace of sorts.
The Kangaroos are trying to determine who out of junior Devarri McCray and sophomore Garrett Gaskamp can fill the departed shoes of Kansas-bound quarterback Michael Cummings, while the Tigers are breaking in rising senior Blayten Magana and Peter Shelburne, last year's JV quarterback, to replace current Texas freshman signal caller David Ash.
"As much as we can, we're going to have both of them playing," Southern said. "The big thing is they have to call (plays), that's the thing that I think is one of the most important things, because ... it makes them have to think and also work on timing with their receivers."
Several area coaches chose to go a different direction and avoid league play all together.
For Harker Heights coach Mike Mullins, who will join Ellison and Florence in a tri-team round-robin tournament on Jun. 14, it was just about the ability to have a little more control on the action in order to better protect his players from injury.
Last season, the Knights lost potential starting receiver Jamal Williams for the season after he broke his collarbone during 7-on-7 play.
"For me, I'm 50-50 (on 7-on-7 play). I think it's good to go out there, be able to throw and catch and possibly get some timing down," Mullins said. "But then in the big scheme of things, it doesn't mean a lot."
Contact Alex Byingtona at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7566.