The National Select 7-on-7 Championships, annually the best of the 7-on-7 season, start Thursday in Hoover, Ala.
The winner of the prestigious 32-team event is dubbed the summer national champion and a team to watch this fall.
On hand will be teams from 14 states, 22 10-game winners from 2011, a half-dozen defending state champs and nearly 100 players already included in the Rivals.com database.
"The National Select 7-on-7 continues to build on the success of its tournament play-in events and nine-year history," said David Bannister, the event's director of marketing and sponsorships. "We have the strongest field ever."
While there are record temperatures forecast for Birmingham, the action on the field will be just as heated.
RivalsHigh.com will be on the field and in the broadcast booth for all the action. For the best coverage of the event, check out our event headquarters page. For a full event schedule, click here.
Pool A Breakdown
Teams: Grayson (Ga.), Prattville (Ala.), New Canaan (Conn.), Florence (Ala.), Elk Grove (Ill.), Lovejoy (Ga.), Spanish Fort (Ala.), and Shiloh Christian (Ark.)
Breakdown: This pool could end up being the middle seeds in the double-elimination bracket. While Grayson will be among the highest-ranked teams in the Preseaon RivalsHigh 100, it is not a team that is made for 7-on-7 play. The offense will be pushed to keep up with some of the other teams in this list. The same can be said for many of the other schools: Prattville has lost its coach and nearly 20 FBS-level players; Shiloh Christian is young, and New Canaan might have trouble keeping up with the speed on the field. This is a true toss-up pool.
Potential Spoiler: While the pool is very balanced there is a team flying under tha radar that could step up and win this group: Hampton (Ga.) Lovejoy. The Lovejoy team showed very well in qualifying tournaments this summer and quarterback Alejandro Bennifield was slinging the ball around the lot. His tight end Arhad Jackson is already committed to Auburn and could be a major focal point in the attack at 6-foot-6. The defense will be tested but it will be worth watching because the offense should score in bunches.
Player to Watch: While he might not have as much to do with the outcome of many games, all eyes will be on the nation's No. 1 prospect Robert Nkemdiche. A defensive end by trade, Nkemdiche will likely slide onto the field as a linebacker and be in coverage against running backs or tight ends, which will highlight how athletic he is. But on offense, his usual touches are on dive plays not on swing passes. People will be excited when he is on the field, but just as awed watching him roam the sidelines.
Prediction: It would figure that passing teams Shiloh, Lovejoy and Elk Grove have the advantage in this pool and it would not be a surprise if any of them claimed the Pool A title. The pick here is Shiloh Christian. A regular at Hoover, this is the first season that the team has come in with its regular quarterback for the entire weekend. Lovejoy may advance further in tournament play, but Shiloh Christian can come out on top of this pool.
Pool B Breakdown
Teams: Olive Branch (Miss.), Central Valley (Pa.), Fayetteville (Ark.), McGill-Toolen (Ala.), Lexington Catholic (Kent.), Wheaton-Warrenville South (Ill.), Montgomery Carver (Ala.), and North Cobb (Ga.).
Breakdown: This is the best pool in the tournament and the winner of this bracket is likely to have multiple losses, but each will have a real shot to win the tournament. There are FBS-level quarterbacks on the majority of the teams and the games will be fun to watch as each fire the ball around the field. With Austin Allen from Fayetteville, Jason Smith at McGill-Toolen, Kyle Bolin of Lexington Catholic, Casey Paraday at Wheaton-Warrenville South, and Jeremy Johnson playing for Montgomery Carver, there is no shortage of talent.
Potential Spoiler: With so many talented quarterbacks in this pool, the surprise team might be Olive Branch. The team is very good at 7-on-7 play and always has plenty of talented players. It has to replace its quarterback, Todd Mays, and receiver D'Arthur Cowan from last season but has plenty coming back.
Player to Watch: With all eyes on the quarterbacks in this group, the best player is wide receiver Robert Foster from Central Valley. The 6-foot-3 prospect is currently ranked as the No. 34 overall player in the nation and could really push his team forward. It is not a deep crop of cornerbacks, so Foster could shine. He is the top player in Pennsylvania and the No. 4 player at his position.
Prediction: Predicting this pool is a setup for failure. Montgomery Carver quarterback Jeremy Johnson led his team to the tournament title as a sophomore and could do it again as a senior. Fayetteville is a natural spread team and will not be working on anything that it doesn't do in the regular season. The same can be said for Olive Branch and Wheaton-Warrenville South. McGill-Toolen may be the best team on the field, but often relies on the running of its quarterback. The favorite here is Fayetteville, with the anticipation that this pool produces a tournament finalist.
Pool C Breakdown
Teams: Page (N.C.), Maine South (Ill.), Hoover (Ala.), North Gwinnett (Ga.), Thomas Jefferson (Pa.), Sherman (Texas), Foley (Ala.), and Evangel Christian (La.).
Breakdown: Pool C is a deceptively deep pool with a lot of familiar names. All but Sherman and Page have been on the fields at Hoover before. There are several teams returning quarterbacks and that will make this pool fun to watch. There are also several strong defenses. Host-school Hoover is the odds-on favorite to take this pool, but it will not come without a major push from Maine South.
Potential Spoiler: Bob Sphire always has his North Gwinnett team ready to play at this event, and the Bulldogs could sneak up on some people. The team is replacing its starting quarterback from last year, and that could be difficult. But as a school that runs a spread as its regular set and has played in many passing events this summer, the potential is there for this team to make a run.
Player to Watch: Class of 2014 cornerback Marlon Humphrey from Hoover. There are few cornerbacks in this event that bear watching, but Humphrey could be one of the best in the nation, let alone the state of Alabama. He was a shutdown cornerback as a sophomore and more is expected as a junior. With so many good quarterbacks, he might pile up the picks and help push his team to the title.
Prediction: This pool sets up for a battle between Maine South and Hoover. Maine South quarterback Matt Alviti will have to deal with the defense of Hoover to claim the title. Hoover is breaking in a new quarterback, Connor Short, but the team has won multiple events this summer season. The pick is Hoover and the expectation is that Maine South and Hoover each make major runs in the big bracket.
Pool D Breakdown
Teams: Whitehaven (Tenn.), Christian Brothers (Mo.), West Monroe (La.), Daphne (Ala.), Colquitt County (Ga.), Lassiter (Ga.), Olantange Liberty (Ohio), and Spain Park (Ala.).
Breakdown: Pool D is another deep pool, and the winner will have to earn it. Whitehaven is clearly the most talented team, but it will have to compete with several schools that have very good quarterbacks. Daphne made a run to the title last season and it returns its quarterback as well. Liberty won its way into the event, so clearly, there are no slouches.
Potential Spoiler: There is no potential spoiler as there is really no favorite. The team that may be able to sneak up on people is Christian Brothers from St. Louis. The team moved the ball well on field in the regular season last year and enters this event with a low profile. Spain Park could be a surprise winner, since it lost some talent but retains a solid quarterback in Nick Mullens, who can carry the team.
Player to Watch: Good luck picking one. From Whitehaven alone, there will be quarterback Patrick Smith, receivers Gerald Perry and Justin Hunt and defensive back Darrius Sims. But the player to watch will be running back Mark Dodson Jr.. As the highest-ranked running back in the event, he could very well be the weapon that pushes Whitehaven to the winner's circle. His ability to spread the field as well as catch and run is key. This is a team with a lot of swagger and it is fueled by the fast-talking Dodson.
Prediction: Colquitt County quarterback Cole Seagraves could push his team to a title. As could Eddie Printz from Lassiter. Or Nick Mullens at Spain Park. And on and on. There are a lot of strong quarterbacks in this pool but the team with the most talent surrounding its signal-caller is Whitehaven and that is the pick to win this pool. There are going to be a lot of great games, but they have the most complete package.