STACK attended the 2016 IMG 7v7 National Championship. More than 60 teams from around the country converged on Bradenton, Florida, to battle against one another for football supremacy. Much of our time was spent following the Cam Newton All-Stars, a collection of Georgia-based high school players coached by Newton, the 2015 NFL MVP (who believes high school 7-on-7 played a crucial role in his own development). We saw fierce competition, great instruction and meaningful improvement and came away with a newfound respect for 7-on-7 football.
For those unfamiliar with 7-on-7, it’s essentially two-hand touch football without lineman. Offenses consist of a quarterback, a center and five eligible receivers. Defenses consist of seven defensive skill position players. Offenses can only advance the ball via pass. Quarterbacks have to get rid of the ball before a pre-determined number of seconds, or else they are “sacked.” Scoring systems vary, but points are awarded for touchdowns, extra points and defensive stops. Games usually last about 15-25 minutes.
High school players can either play on a 7-on-7 team with their own teammates or join with other players from their area to form a club team or travel team. Think of it like AAU basketball for football players. Teams can compete in regional tournaments to qualify for bigger tournaments like the IMG 7v7 National Championship. Though the recent explosion of interest in the 7-on-7 circuit has garnered some attention from NCAA investigators, since it’s largely uncharted waters, the benefits the sport offers to players are immense. After witnessing the great competition at the IMG 7v7 National Championship, here are five reasons why every high school player should get involved with 7-on-7.
*All photos via the Cam Newton 7v7 Twitter account
1. It’s Great Practice
Due to high school rules, the amount of football a team can actually play during the spring and summer months is quite limited. Before you ship off to training camp in August, you might get together once or twice for a minicamp. With 7-on-7, the competition never stops. Tournaments run throughout the late spring and into the summer. If you’re on a team with your high school teammates, 7-on-7 can be an awesome way to work on your timing, chemistry and assignments against real competition. Even if you’re not playing alongside your teammates, getting out and playing in a competitive format is a fantastic way to hone your skills and technique.
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When you describe 7-on-7 to someone who isn’t familiar with it, it can sound a bit lame. No helmets? No shoulder pads? No tackling? 7-on-7 must be a lackadaisical, defense-optional affair, akin to the NBA All-Star Game. How can anyone actually get better in that environment? However, anyone who’s competed or witnessed the games knows that is not the case. There is more scoring than in a typical football game, but 7-on-7 tournaments are ferociously competitive. There is no tackling, but players are permitted to jam and get physical within the normal rules of football. If you’re loafing around, you’ll get exposed.
2. You’ll Line Up Against The Best
How many elite players are you going to line up against during the course of your high school season? One, maybe two? Well at many 7-on-7 tournaments, you’ll be facing top-notch talent on a regular basis.
There were countless high-profile recruits at the IMG 7-on-7 tournament—and there were plenty of under-the-radar players who made a splash. Say you’re a cornerback from an under-recruited high school. If you come to a tournament and lock down a four-star receiver, that can earn you some serious buzz. It’s an opportunity you simply might not have access to during your regular high school season.
Another great thing about 7-on-7 tournaments is that the games are fairly short, meaning you can play several in one day, which gives you the opportunity to play against many different players, each with his own distinct style. In one game, you might guard a 5-foot-8 skinny speedster, and in the next, you could be facing a 6-foot-4, 220-pound beast. Playing against lots of opponents with different styles in a short period of time is a surefire recipe for rapid development.
3. It’s Safer Than Real Football
No one wants to get injured before their real season begins.
By taking the tackling out of the game, 7-on-7 is a safer form of football. Do injuries still occur? Without a doubt. But with no tackling, contact injuries and general pounding are kept to a minimum. In terms of head injuries, some leagues require (and all leagues permit) the use of soft-shell helmets by any player who doesn’t want to take an unprotected blow to the head. But with two-hand touch rules in effect, those are a rarity.
4. It’s More Like Football Than a Combine
Many recruiting events center around testing. College coaches want hard data on players’ dimensions, speed, explosiveness, agility and strength because that helps them sort through tens of thousands of potential recruits.
However, many excellent football players simply do not test well. Their 40 is slow. Their Vertical Jump is subpar. They can’t seem to master the technique of the 20-Yard Short Shuttle. But when they get on the field and actually play football, opponents can’t seem to stop them.
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7-on-7 is a place where these type of players can shine. It favors those with actual football talent—things like route-running, catching, man coverage skills—over those who simply post eye-popping workout numbers. It doesn’t matter how fast your 40-Yard Dash is when you step onto the field for a 7-on-7 game. If you can consistently make plays, people will take notice.
5. There’s No Such Thing As Too Much Exposure
There’s no doubt that the most important thing to college coaches is your performance during your actual football season. 7-on-7 will never replace the real thing.
But it never hurts to get your name out there. College coaches are prohibited from attending 7-on-7 tournaments, but if a recruit balls out, you can bet they’ll read about it somewhere or obtain a copy of the film. And besides coaches, 7-on-7 tournaments can help recruits garner more attention from services like Scout and Rivals, which often cover these events. Getting bumped up from a two-star to a three-star can help your recruiting plan build serious momentum.
Ultimately, 7-on-7 is a great way to hone your skills in a fun, competitive environment before your football season begins. If you receive added exposure because of it, that’s great, too. We recommend trying to play with as many of your high school teammates as possible so you can build chemistry heading into the season; but if that’s not an option, feel free to seek out a quality, reputable travel or club team in your area.