By Angel Verdejo
Killeen Daily Herald
Football coaches, players and fans debate every year on the relevance of spring and summertime 7-on-7 play to the real games in the fall.
Some say it means very little - there's no offensive and defense lines, players are down by one-hand touch and quarterbacks get four seconds to throw without pressure in the backfield.
But others say there is some carryover and benefits.
"We play it and we'll continue to," said Gatesville head football coach Kyle Cooper, whose Hornets won the Division II consolation title at the state tournament last month. "The No. 1 reason is the kids love it and they like to play. I like them having fun.
"There's enough times in football where you don't get to have fun, so if they can have fun with a football in their hands, we're going to do it."
Last season's two 7-on-7 winners were Lake Travis (Division I) and Brownwood (Division II). The Cavaliers won their fourth straight Class 4A title, while Brownwood reached the 3A Div. II semifinals.
The two consolation winners (Lufkin and Graham) were also playoff teams. Gatesville has qualified for state 7-on-7 the last four summers, while making the playoffs the last two years.
"There's some carryover to it," Cooper said. "They don't run our whole package - they run our base routes. And with how many times they run our base routes, it's just getting to that point of automatic.
"If I had one thing to say about these three days (of practice), it's our kids have just had great carryover. The receiver corps and quarterback - you got to think 7-on-7 has a lot to do with that."
It isn't just the added repetitions, but the opportunity for Hornets stepping into new roles.
Garrett Featherston saw limited time on offense last year, but became a reliable target for new quarterback Cole Edmiston. In Gatesville's win over Whitney in the consolation final, Edmiston completed 16 passes - seven to Featherston.
He'll help lead a receiving corps that has to replace Nardi Meyers, the area leader in catches and receiving yards last year, and fellow all-district picks Dexter Knox, Payton George and Edmiston. Others expected to see plenty of passes are Tyler Jaynes, Danny Byrd and Matt Wallace.
At the state tournament, Gatesville went 0-3 in pool play then found a groove. The Hornets beat Cameron Yoe to open consolation play, then came back the next day and won four straight games.
And it's not just the offense, which runs base packages with some freedom to tweak things as well (Gatesville has added elements to the offense from 7-on-7 play). Cooper said he's seen the carryover with defenders as well. Against Whitney, Gatesville had three interceptions and forced three turnovers on downs.
"We had some guys step up as we started making that run," Cooper said. "That's kind of what I've seen - individuals who went into 7-on-7 and came out of spring with question marks as far as themselves. I felt like they gained a ton of confidence through the summer."