The receiver catches a pass and turns up the field.
He’s sent to the turf by an opposing safety. Sumner High School coach Keith Ross is nearby.
“They don’t teach you that in 7-on-7,” Ross quips.
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A few of his Sumner football players pay to compete on all-star 7-on-7 teams with outside trainers, such as those at Ford Sports Performance or Rise, even if he doesn’t agree with doing so.
“They’ll carry the ball with one hand and I’m like, ‘We’re not in 7-on-7 – this isn’t Rise,” Ross said.
It’s cool football, where players can replace linemen, pads and helmets for fancy cameras, spandex shorts and caps. Some coaches call it football’s AAU — and that’s not supposed to be flattering.
Some local organizations charge thousands of dollars for athletes to compete on their traveling 7-on-7 teams. But Eastern Washington University assistant coach Brian Strandley was asked how beneficial 7-on-7 football is in his college recruiting.
“It’s not,” said Strandley, a graduate of Curtis High School. “It’s not at all.”
He echoed comments from Stanford coach David Shaw, who said last year that he will never have a recruiting conversation with a 7-on-7 coach and he’s never watched a 7-on-7 film.
“There are so many things out there and parents are going, ‘I got to get to this recruiting service, I got to get them to this camp, this combine, this 7-on-7 league,’ ” Strandley said. “And, you know, what I tell them is, ‘If you do any of those things, do it for the experience of meeting some new kids.’ But I think that is where the benefit ends.”
Of the 40 prep football coaches who responded to The News Tribune’s survey, 97.5 percent of them said it’s more beneficial for an athlete to participate in some sort of other school-sponsored sports team during the winter and spring seasons (such as basketball, wrestling, baseball, track and field and soccer) than 7-on-7 football.
Yet, 75 percent said athletes at their school have chosen not to participate in other school sports in the winter and spring to instead train with outside facilities.
Coaches also say 7-on-7 football has become a breeding ground for the entitlement culture, prima donnas, poor techniques, over-the-top celebrations and getting athletes to transfer to another high school.
In the survey, 95 percent of coaches said they believe the WIAA needs to take steps to address the 7-on-7 culture in the offseason.
Troy Taylor is a former quarterback, high school coach and now the offensive coordinator at the University of Utah. He stressed that he didn’t want to demonize everything about 7-on-7.
But in his time coaching — including at Folsom High School when Jake Browning was his record-setting quarterback — he’s never found it useful. He wouldn’t even use it as a drill in practices.
“I’m just not a fan because I feel it doesn’t prepare the quarterback properly,” Taylor said. “Football, especially playing quarterback, comes down to being able to make decisions in a confined space with a lot of chaos and violence going on around you and you have to be able to keep your focus downfield and make throws. Honestly, I’m 49 and I could still play 7-on-7 right now … if you give me an hour and a half to warm up.”
And that’s the message most local high school coaches say they hear from college recruiters. Eighty percent responded in the survey that college coaches have directly informed them that 7-on-7 is not useful in recruiting and that college recruiters would rather the football player participate in a different sport in the winter and spring.
The News Tribune contacted seven local college recruiters of varying levels – including those at both UW and WSU. Most didn’t return multiple calls and two declined to comment on the record.
“From my viewpoint, I don’t see it as beneficial,” Taylor said. “I’m not saying it’s bad for everybody, but for a quarterback, I don’t see the value in it. And I think it could be detrimental in some ways.”
But some outside entities send mixed signals to parents and players.
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Rise trainer Reggie Jones defends 7-on-7 football. He said to one newspaper that college coaches frequently tell him ‘we’re not doing enough football-related stuff in Washington, so we can’t accurately evaluate kids. This allows them to evaluate because they’re going against kids in Texas or California.”
Jones is a graduate of Kent-Meridian and was on the New Orleans Saints’ roster when they won the Super Bowl in 2009.
Strandley was asked about Jones’ comment.
“I just disagree,” he said. “We’ve never had issues with that. Not a bit.”
Strandley looks at game tapes from Friday night football, not 7-on-7.
And why not? Game tapes are so easy to access. Coaches are no longer living in the stone age of mailing VHS tapes. Now almost every athlete has video highlights online – available with the click of a button on the web site Hudl.
Strandley said he watched 50 online highlight tapes one day this spring.
And how many of those included 7-on-7 highlights in them?
“A couple,” he said. “And I’ll be honest, I didn’t watch those. I didn’t. I watch the game film.”
Representatives at Ford Sports Performance did not return multiple calls seeking comment.
It’s horrible. The whole 7-on-7 culture – it’s a lack of discipline. It’s super excessive celebrations and highlight tapes. ... We know college coaches don’t care about it, and neither do we.
Aaron Trolia, founder and president of AT Sports Inc., which oversees the Tacoma-based Rise Football Academy
Rise’s website touts 7-on-7 and the opportunities for exposure and college recruiting – and that they’ve taken zero-star athletes and turned them into the best at their position. It said before this story published that “7v7 has become a vehicle for college scouts to identify talented players after their season.”
But when asked, the founders of Rise seemed just as frustrated with the 7-on-7 culture as local high school coaches are.
“It’s horrible,” said Aaron Trolia, who is the president of AT Sports Inc., which oversees the Rise Football Academy. Rise, which is based in Tacoma but has a facility in Puyallup, has multiple offseason 7-on-7 teams.
“The whole 7-on-7 culture – it’s a lack of discipline. It’s super excessive celebrations and highlight tapes.”
Trolia graduated from Curtis before pitching at WSU and being drafted by the Mariners in 2004.
So why charge $1,000 per player and even field 7-on-7 teams?
“Honestly, it’s so we could get the truth out there on what is happening,” he said. “We know college coaches don’t care about it, and neither do we.”
AT Sports Inc. vice president Jameel Cante stepped in. He played football at Curtis and WSU.
Rise’s 7-on-7 teams are a small facet of what they do, Cante said, and brings them much less revenue than their offseason training programs they host in their facility.
“This (7-on-7) is a money maker for people,” Cante said. “Not for us, because we would have our training program, regardless. But it’s a money maker.
“We have a ton of college coaches tell us, ‘This is stupid. It’s dumb.’ We know. We film all of our 7-on-7 because we coach off of it and we create highlight tapes for marketing. But we’re not creating a highlight tape and shipping it off to college coaches. Nothing will destroy your credibility more than sending a 7-on-7 highlight film. If 7-on-7 went away, we’d still be here and we’d have more kids in our programs.”
It’s not football. You aren’t getting knocked on your butt. And at some point in time in football you have to be able to beat the guy in front of you. That’s what has to happen. I mean, you even see it in AAU basketball. There’s no skill development there. It’s just playing games.
Todd Beamer football coach Darren McKay
And they said the common misconception is that 7-on-7 consumes most of their time. But they said they typically have 7-on-7 trainings about once a month and every Sunday in February, and they’ve never told a player to not play another school sport or miss a team workout to attend.
“What is 7-on-7, at its core? We aren’t banging heads. It’s running and jumping,” Cante said. “We’ve played more than 100 7-on-7 games in over two years and it’s like playing ultimate Frisbee. But the kids like it, and it’s fun and when done the right way and there’s control, it’s fun to take a team from Washington to Las Vegas.”
Yet, here’s a snapshot of what was on Rise’s website:
“By fielding the top team in the Northwest, we are able to compete against the best in the country and allow our players the opportunity to RISE to the top of college recruiting boards,” it reads.
And Bellevue-based FSP’s 7-on-7 page touted how athletes will “get exposed to the real National Attention is by playing on a proven Nationally respected 7v7 Program and making plays.” And that they have helped more than 55 athletes receive NCAA Division I scholarships.
Some high school and college coaches said that just isn’t true. And the athletes who received those scholarships more likely got those from their genetics and Friday night highlights.
“It’s not football,” Todd Beamer coach Darren McKay said. “You aren’t getting knocked on your butt. And at some point in time in football you have to be able to beat the guy in front of you. That’s what has to happen.
“I mean, you even see it in AAU basketball. There’s no skill development there. It’s just playing games.”
When Jake Browning finished his high school career he had more career passing touchdowns than any quarterback in national prep football history. And this past season at UW he was a Heisman Trophy finalist.
Yet, Taylor said they never competed in 7-on-7, and Browning never asked if he could.
“And people were always shocked about that,” Taylor said. “We would always do team things with ourselves. We would always have an offensive and defensive line so the quarterback was throwing with pressure and so he could get comfortable in that environment.”
But Taylor said he sees some benefits for quarterbacks who play in primarily running offenses with their high school teams.
And Strandley said the benefit to 7-on-7 football is the experience. It’s an opportunity to network with players on other teams.
But the current culture of select leagues has resembled the ugly underbelly of AAU basketball, coaches say.
“The biggest concern for me is how they get to act when they play 7-on-7 and the bad habits they get and then you get to deal with that,” Graham-Kapowsin coach Eric Kurle said. “It becomes, ‘It’s about myself and what I can do for myself and how I can look good.’”
G-K quarterback Dylan Morris is considered one of the top quarterback recruits in the country. He competes with Rise’s 7-on-7 team.
“The thing about Dylan, though, is he knows 7-on-7 is totally different than when you go live bullets and you have people coming after you and you have to step up into the pocket,” Kurle said.
“But, you know, they are competing and they’re doing stuff. I just don’t want to see kids get exploited for their money. If they aren’t, and their family can afford it and they are still playing their high school sports, that’s what colleges want and that’s what everybody wants.”
I’m just not a fan because I feel it doesn’t prepare the quarterback properly. Football, especially playing quarterback, comes down to being able to make decisions in a confined space with a lot of chaos and violence going on around you and you have to be able to keep your focus downfield and make throws. Honestly, I’m 49 and I could still play 7-on-7 right now … if you give me an hour and a half to warm up.
Troy Taylor, University of Utah offensive coordinator and former HS coach to UW quarterback Jake Browning
Like Kurle, Skyline coach Mat Taylor said he’s spoken to many college coaches about the increasing popularity of 7-on-7 football.
“I think the parents feel like they are providing for their kids, and I think it’s out of love and caring and trying to get them opportunities,” Mat Taylor said. “But the college coaches, I won’t say which ones, but almost every single college coach who comes through here does not like the direction that any of this is going.”
And neither do high school coaches – 87.5 percent of survey respondents said that the 7-on-7 culture makes them worry about the future of high school football.
“They develop sloppy techniques – holding everybody, carrying the ball with one hand, catching it with one hand and they’re dropping it because it doesn’t matter in a Saturday 7-on-7,” Ross said. “It matters, though, on a Friday night. Then there’s the backflips and the coaches running on the field and that doesn’t happen in real football.
“College coaches know that real football is played on Friday nights. You can’t simulate Friday night football with 7-on-7.”
TJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677