Coaches expectations limited for 7 on 7 | Sports

HUNTINGTON — All 10 Mountain State Athletic Conference football teams, non-league squads from West Virginia and playoff units from Kentucky and Ohio and will meet on the field next week.

MSAC schools Huntington High, Hurricane, Riverside and South Charleston will host 7 on 7 events at 4 p.m., Thursday. The pass-oriented competitions replace the MSAC Grid-O-Rama, two-quarter full-squad scrimmages that took place since 2005 at Laidley Field in Charleston. Tickets cost $5 apiece.

At Huntington High, which opens Aug. 27 vs. Parkersburg at home, the Highlanders will be joined by Boyd County, Fairland, Spring Valley, Raceland, Tolsia and Winfield. At Hurricane, the Redskins will compete with Cabell Midland, Chapmanville, Nitro, Parkersburg South, Poca and Scott. At Riverside, the Warriors are scheduled to entertain Buckhannon-Upshur, Clay County, Liberty-Raleigh, Oak Hill, Ravenswood, Roane County and Woodrow Wilson. South Charleston is set to host Capital, Fairmont Senior, George Washington, Herbert Hoover, Parkersburg, Sissonville and St. Albans.

Several coaches said they prefer full scrimmages, but the 7 on 7 format offers some value.

“I’ll let you know after next week,” Huntington High coach Billy Seals said of which format he favors. “A lot of the coaches with the grid being locked in were scrimmaging someone they’d in the regular season and didn’t like that. You hate to get a lot of reps six days before you play a game.”

Cabell Midland coach Luke Salmons said he liked the grid-o-rama.

“That’s just me,” said Salmons, whose heavily run-oriented team opens the season Aug. 27 at Spring Valley. “It’s good, I guess, in some ways. We’ve done a lot of them. It gives the kids a chance to compete.”

But not all the kids. That’s the rub many coaches have with the 7 on 7. While lineman challenges will be included, those events lack game-situation aspects.

“I’m about giving every kid a chance to compete,” said Salmons, a former standout offensive lineman at Ravenswood High and Marshall University. “I think the 7 on 7 format tells some kids they don’t matter. We had a short June with spring sports and we’re starting later. July is very critical for us to get better.”

Cabell Midland went 7-0 last season and was a strong contender for a Class AAA state title before COVID-19 restrictions ended their season three weeks into the playoffs.

Fairland coach Melvin Cunningham will bring one of the smaller-school squads to the workouts. The Dragons, who open Aug. 20 at Portsmouth West, return considerable talent from last season’s 8-2 team that reached the regional finals, Ohio’s Elite Eight. The Dragons are looking to replace quarterback Max Ward and wide receiver Gavin Hunt, each of whom signed to play at Kentucky Christian University.

“For us, I try to be realistic of our expectations,” Cunningham said of how much of a gauge he can get of his team. “It’s not going to be a true indication of where we are. For us, it’s effective because we throw the ball. It gives us a chance to see our quarterback go through his reads and see different defensive formations, make audibles and make checks.”

Cunningham said he’ll use the event to evaluate Peyton Jackson, Zander Schmidt and Ethan Wall, who are vying to replace Ward.

“It allows us as a coaching staff to put them in tough situations,” Cunningham said. “It’s not about winning a 7 on 7, but about seeing if our kids can get out of adverse situations that are going to happen on Friday nights.”

Fairland went undefeated in a 7 on 7 last week at Wellston, playing the Rockets, Gallia Academy, South Gallia and Vinton County. Thursday’s event, however, features significantly larger foes.

“For me, obviously there’s a challenge playing bigger competition,” Cunningham said. “They’ll have more guys who are more athletic. Ohio is a great brand of football. The big schools, though, have kids playing on one side of the ball and focusing on that position all the time, they become better. That’s a challenge we look forward to, putting our kids in situations that help us on down the road.”

Cunningham, Salmons and Seals agreed that winning in 7 on 7 is far down the list of priorities. 

“In all the years we’ve been going to them we’ve won maybe one,” said Seals, beginning his 14th season at HHS. “It’s about working on timing with quarterback and receivers, working on coverages. That’s the way we approach it.. That’s how we approach it. Some teams run crazy coverages like two-man that they’d never run in the game because they’d get it run down their throats.”

Salmons, too, said the goal of winning a 7 on 7 is shortsighted. 

“People develop a scheme to win 7 on 7,” Salmons said. “They’ll run plays you’ll never see in the regular season. I don’t see how that does anyone any good. You can’t make contact. We teach our kids to be aggressive and you don’t want 7 on 7 to teach bad habits. In 7 on 7, the linebacker’s first step is backward. If your first step is backward in a regular game, usually, you’re in trouble.”

Seals, whose team was 3-6 last season, said he will take the 7 on 7 for what it is.

“It’s a glorified two-hand touch,” Seals said. “You can compete. Maybe you find out who can do some things for you.”

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