Locust Grove assistant coach Rodney Satterfield spends a teachable moment with quarterback Champ Leddon in between games at the Southside Shootout. (Staff Photo: Gabriel Stovall
Don’t tell Mundy’s Mill and Eagle’s Landing that 7-on-7 tournaments and passing leagues don’t mean much.
That’s the cautionary refrain that many coaches will provide when you ask them about the importance of the summer time football sessions. Some regard them as little more than glorified summer conditioning sessions, being quick to note that the game is much different when you add on the pads and pass rushers.
Then there are others who believe that 7-on-7s are a valuable resource for their teams — a resource that can provide teams with a vital lesson that sometimes can’t be learned just through playing against yourself.
Coaches will tell you over and over again that, while passing leagues can’t teach their kids how to block and tackle, it does plant within them the basics to play at a high level in August. The athletes also seem to be aware that their success in passing league competition can provide some fall implications.
“We get the chance to play against teams that are as good as us, or better than us,” said Henry County High running back Aaron Bryant. “When we do well against teams that are better than us, it really helps us to know where we stand.”
Ask Mundy’s Mill and Eagle’s Landing. Both the Tigers and Golden Eagles have not been easily confused with the state’s elite football programs. The Tigers had limited success in 2012, getting hot at the end of the season and almost making the state playoffs before an ACL injury sidelined star tailback Rodney Smith, a junior at the time.
Meanwhile, Eagle’s Landing — though with a high-powered offense — could only muster up a pair of wins in the 2012 campaign.
But last year was a different story.
The Tigers and Golden Eagles both set school records for success during the 2013 season. Mundy’s Mill finished 8-5 with a quarterfinals playoff finish — a school best, behind Minnesota-bound Smith’s 2,000 yard rushing season. And Eagle’s Landing, at 8-3, posted a school record for wins in one season. It also made the playoffs for just the second time in school history, losing by a point to Mary Persons in the first round.
The thread of commonality between the two schools’ successes could be found on the football fields of Locust Grove’s Warren Holder Park. That’s where Mundy’s Mill and Eagle’s Landing squared off in the championship game of the 2013 Southside Shootout. Mundy’s Mill eeked out a win against the Eagles, winning on the last play of the game.
And that, for tournament organizer and Locust Grove coach Clint Satterfield, is no coincidence.
“Teams that do well in 7-on-7s often find themselves doing pretty good during the regular season,” Satterfield said. “Just ask Mundy’s Mill and Eagle’s Landing. Mundy’s Mill got hot last year during that thing at the right time, and it seemed to just carry over into the season. You see that happen a lot.”
That’s because when a football team gets it in its mind that it can stand toe-to-toe with the best of the best in the summer, it’s usually something that they don’t forget when the fall comes.
There’s something about teams like Henry County getting chances to make plays against Griffin, or Eagle’s Landing picking off a pass intended for five-star Lovejoy wideout Preston Williams that causes teams to stick their chests out for good.
Remember, for all the braun that football athletes are praised for, it’s still of a truth that the best way to win the battle between the hedges is to win the battle between one’s own ears.
Make no mistake about it. Football is a physical sport. But there’s also a lot of brain power involved — much of it beginning in the realm of confidence.
Usually, you get your first glimpse of emerging stars on these summer fields. New quarterbacks and receivers get invaluable reps together, allowing them to learn how to read defenses and each other. And defensive backs have all the time in the world to perfect coverage technique.
All of those things are the mental aspects of football that usually spell the difference between securing a playoff berth early, or having to worry about play-in games and losses of other teams to get in.
That’s why coaches and players alike love these tournaments. It gets the mind in shape, as well as the body. And in the words of my all-wise mother, “When you know better, you do better.”
When she said that to me, she wasn’t talking about football. But I don’t think many people would argue that that philosophy fits for real life, and life on the gridiron.
Gabriel Stovall covers sports for the Henry Daily Herald and Clayton News Daily newspapers. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or if you’re on Twitter, follow him @GabrielStovall1.
RAW VIDEO: Henry County's Marquez Souder makes a play
Henry County's Marquez Souder goes up for a leaping grab during the Southside Shootout at Warren Holder Park.
RAW VIDEO: Lovejoy at the Southside Shootout
A spectacular catch by a Lovejoy receiver during the Southside Shootout.