There's plenty of variance on the relative value of playing in a 7-on-7 football tournament, but for the trio of Plant City high schools, last weekend's trip to Lithia was universal in its purpose.
The 7-on-7 event hosted by Newsome served as a barometer for Strawberry Crest, Plant City and Durant. None of the teams looked to win the entire tournament, but instead used the competition to measure how much progress they have made this summer.
Consider the perspective of Plant City coach Wayne Ward, who isn't really too concerned with the ins and outs of the offensive scheme right now as he prepares for a season without standout quarterback Bennie Coney, now at the University of Cincinnati. He wants to see if his extraordinarily young group has what it takes to — and this is a word Ward may break a record for using this offseason — compete.
"We're getting into the mind-set to compete. No matter who the other team is," he said. "Our youth showed a little bit (at the tourney). It was good because it simulated competition on a football field, and we've just got to get that winning attitude. The main thing is to compete."
The selection of that mantra is pretty easy to understand. Coney was just the primary example of the type of talent that departed the Raider roster as seniors. Literally every key position on the squad took a significant hit due to graduation.
The 7-on-7 tournament Raider roster had 22 players; only five were upperclassmen. So simply seeing how his newbies would react in a big-time tournament, with some extremely talented opponents, was the focus.
Ward said that new quarterback, Landon Galloway, "got better the more he threw" last weekend, which had teams play six 20-minute games each on Saturday before evolving into elimination play Sunday.
Defensive leaders emerged for the Raiders. Ward pointed out junior Matthew Chaney and rising sophomores Cody Dawson and Quentin Williams for their work, saying free safety Williams did an "amazing" job in taking over a leadership role. There were even two freshmen, Marquise Hargrove and Irving Michael, that impressed.
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For Strawberry Crest coach John Kelly, the big plus was getting to see his unsettled quarterback situation start to play out. Tristan Hyde and Austin Carswell, sophomores-to-be, traded off duty last weekend.
Whoever gets the starting nod will have a pretty legitimate target to throw to. Kelly thinks receiver Karel Hamilton could be the school's first Division 1 football signee.
The Chargers jumped right into the heart of the competition, going up against Wharton and its all-everything player Vernon Hargreaves — ranked by most as the most sought-after recruit in the bay area this year.
"We more than held our own. We lost but it was 24-18 and we had a chance at the end," said Kelly.
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Durant, like Strawberry Crest, won its first game Sunday before being eliminated. Plant City eliminated Anclote 13-7 before falling to what Ward called a "special" Lakewood team.
"We got to the second day, which was good. We don't really have the makeup for 7-on-7," said Durant athletic director Todd Long. Defensive back J.J. Garrett was a standout for Durant with several interceptions.
Cougars head coach Mike Gottman was on vacation starting Sunday and unavailable for comment. Gottman knows what he's doing. In a couple of weeks things get really busy as fall practice gets under way.
In fact, it has pretty busy even before then. All of the locals have plenty of summer activity left — including more 7-on-7 action.