April 17, 2013

Endless tournaments, endless debate


Twelve days after National Signing Day, the first important 7-on-7 tournament kicked off in California.

It was the 4th Quarter Sports Elite 7-on-7 Tournament at Los Angeles Salesian, and that's when Erik Brown introduced himself to the national scene.

Before that, the Fontana (Calif.) Summit WR was known in Southern California but not widely and he was still largely unproven.

Seemingly every weekend in California -- or close by -- there has been a noteworthy 7-on-7 tournament or camp and sometimes they overlap, inviting stiff competition to land the area's top players.

There has been the 4th Quarter Sports tournament, the NLA 7-on-7 in Las Vegas, the Rivals Camp Series presented by Under Armour in Phoenix followed by the Los Angeles Rivals Camp and the Los Angeles Nike Camp on the same day.

Then there was the Gridiron Academy tournament, the IMG Gamebreakers Challenge, the Passing Down Tournament in Fontana, Calif., and this past weekend the B2G Elite 7-on-7 at Fullerton College and the Passing Down tournament in Northern California.

All these took place by mid-April. Some say it's overkill.

Prospects are run ragged not only at these weekend tournaments -- recruits were going between the B2G event and UCLA's spring practice and the USC spring game last weekend -- but they practice with their 7-on-7 teams, too.

Offseason? That word has little meaning with the abundance of tournaments that cram these players' schedules.

It's far from over, too. Next weekend is the Passing Down Best of the West 7-on-7 in Fullerton College. The weekend after that is the IMG 7-on-7 West Regional in Redondo Beach, Calif.

It will go on from there. More camps and 7-on-7 tournaments and then summer camps across the country and then prospects will get a little breather before heading into their regular season. They'll need it.

One argument in support of all these tournaments is that in past years, California kids have been underexposed. Offers routinely come later for them. Powerhouse programs don't get involved as early with them as, say, the best players from the Southeast.

Getting these early tournaments in is a springboard for many kids - such as Brown -- and that it's beneficial toward the end goal of getting a college scholarship.

"The weather in California allows schools and (7-on-7) teams to practice year-round," USCFootball.com recruiting analyst Gerard Martinez said.

"It's a big reason why the Pac-12 Conference has always been a great passing conference. You have high school quarterbacks, receivers and even defensive backs all very well-versed in passing concepts because they come from high school programs with year-round practice passing the football.

"That would indicate the benefits of passing leagues. Whether the increase in travel team passing tournaments is a good thing or bad thing is open for debate. From an evaluation standpoint, it's not football, and I think some people forget that. I think it's overkill if the training aspect of 7-on is sacrificed in an effort to just win tournaments."

But many 7-on-7 teams in California do more than throw out the footballs and play. There are serious training sessions during the week working on speed, footwork, route-running, all the essentials to make a good football player great.

And like it or not, the exposure is unparalleled. Brown, now considered one of the top receivers in the state if not the best overall, would hardly be a known commodity if he lived in a state where 7-on-7 football was not prevalent.

Playing so much in a state saturated with media exposure gives Brown and others the platform needed to earn scholarships.

At the 4th Quarter Sports tournament in February, just days after signing day, Brown had been receiving a little bit of interest from UCLA, some from smaller schools. Now the Bruins have offered and he's considered a heavy lean there. Other Pac-12 programs are involved and USC is showing more interest. He'll be a four-star in May.

He proved himself at that first tournament, and then in Las Vegas, and then at the Rivals Camp in Los Angeles, where he dominated, and then at other tournaments. That body of work would not have been possible this offseason without the load of tournaments available.

"He was especially impressive downfield getting separation and adjusting to the football," said Rivals.com national analyst Mike Farrell, who watched Brown at the Los Angeles Rivals Camp.

"As the camp wore on, he gained more confidence and you can tell there wasn't going to be anyone who could check him. I think when players like that get in a groove and feel they have something to prove, they can be unstoppable in that setting. The 7-on-7 setting allows us to see his ball skills, route running and competitive nature."

Brown is not nearly the only one to get such exposure. Brad Kaaya has emerged as one of the top quarterbacks in the state after dominating 7-on-7 play this spring. Washington commit Rahshead Johnson has firmly established himself as one of the top receivers.

In Southern California circles, it's almost impossible to believe D.J. Riggins has not landed any offers after showing out at numerous 7-on-7 events and camps.

Players across the board from B2G, from Ground Zero, from Gamechangers, from Body by Tra, from Prep Star, from Matchmaker Sports, from all the teams that dot the California 7-on-7 scene, have made a name for themselves this spring. Others have been exposed as overrated as well.

Unlike previous years, the calendar is filled with tournaments. Players go nonstop almost from the end of one season to the start of the next one. Talk to one person and the benefits of 7-on-7 are limitless. Talk to another and the criticism is endless.

Passing leagues have a firm grip on the California high school football scene. There's no doubt about it. Some people love it, some people cringe at the thought.

One thing is certain: It's not going away anytime soon.



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