This weekend’s Southeastern 7-on-7 Championship will bring area high school football fans two days of passing competition between some of the top programs from a seven-state area.
But in the midst of the team tournament, there will be plenty of play-making individuals putting on a show on both sides of the ball.
The second edition of The Daily Citizen’s annual competition will feature 32 teams in pool play (Saturday) and championship and consolation bracket play (Sunday) on Dalton Parks and Recreation Department fields. Many of those teams will bring with them at least one potential collegiate star fans should see firsthand — before they’re stars on Saturdays in the fall.
Here’s a look at 10 of the high school playmakers expected to shine in Dalton:
• Reuben Foster, LB, Auburn: Switching states created some additional buzz for the already highly regarded recruit — the senior transferred from Georgia’s Troup to his new Alabama high school during the offseason after Troup coach Charles Flowers was fired — but the biggest news may be where Foster is headed next year.
The 6-foot-2-inch, 240-pound defensive anchor — ranked the No. 1 middle linebacker in the nation by Scout, Rivals and 247Sports — has verbally committed to the University of Alabama, which has claimed two of the past three national championships. (Editor's note: Since this story was published in Thursday's edition of The Daily Citizen, Foster has flipped his verbal commitment from Alabama to the University of Auburn)
“He’s a ferocious hitter, an explosive hitter,” said Tim Carter, Foster’s new coach at Auburn High. “He runs through contact. He’s a very physical football player.”
• Reggie Upshaw, REC, Baylor: The 6-6, 210-pound senior brings with him size and an ability to create mismatches that most coaches dream of. He’s the nation’s No. 38-ranked tight end, according to 247Sports, and helped the Chattanooga school reach the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association’s Division II-AA state championship game last year.
Are there many defensive backs who can handle his size? Baylor coach Phil Massey doesn’t think so.
“Reggie’s going to draw a lot of attention from the opposing secondary,” Massey said. “We will line him up at split end, tight end, even at slot, trying to find some mismatches.”
• Will Francis, QB, Harding Academy: When you throw 38 touchdowns and only six interceptions, you get high praise from your coach.
The 6-4, 195-pound senior for the Wildcats of Searcy, Ark., was a first-year starter in 2011 and showcased terrific control of games while passing for 3,549 yards.
He isn’t ranked by any of the major recruiting sites, but the Southeastern might offer a chance to change that.
“Will’s the best player that I’ve ever coached,” said Harding coach Roddy Mote, who has compiled a 45-7-2 overall record in his four years leading the Wildcats. “He’s a special kid.”
• Nacarius Fant, WR, Bowling Green: Coming all the way from Kentucky, the junior wide receiver is one of the younger talents in the tournament who is gaining recognition. The 165-pounder is only 5-10, but he tallied more than 1,500 receiving yards in 2011 and earned all-state honors.
“He’s a legit college prospect,” Purples coach Kevin Wallace said. “He had a successful season last year and he will go on to have a great career.”
• Alize Woodall, ATH, LaFayette: An offseason transfer from another Southeastern competitor, Lithonia’s Martin Luther King Jr., this athletic senior could put on a show from a number of different positions.
Woodall (6-0, 175) will play a combination of quarterback, wide receiver and cornerback for the Ramblers — whatever is necessary to get him the ball, LaFayette coach Tab Gable said.
“We want to move around and get him the ball,” Gable said. “He’s a great athlete.”
• Dillon Woodruff, QB, Riverdale: Because of a surgery-requiring injury suffered the week before, the senior quarterback missed the Murfreesboro school’s semifinals loss in the 2011 TSSAA Division I-6A playoffs. That didn’t stop him from getting scholarship nods.
Woodruff (6-1, 185) has offers from Middle Tennessee State, Western Kentucky, Georgia Tech and Duke. He accumulated just shy of 2,500 all-purpose yards and 29 touchdowns last season.
“Everything we do offensively runs through Dillon,” Riverdale coach Ron Aydelott said. “As Dillon goes, so goes Riverdale.”
• Cortez Leonard, DB, Callaway: Fans who like watching good defensive backs at work should keep an eye out for this 5-11 free safety from Hogansville.
Mississippi State, South Florida, North Carolina and Illinois liked him enough to offer scholarships. Add his national rankings as a safety — No. 64 (Scout), No. 42 (Rivals) and No. 21 (247Sports) — and the senior should have a fun fall leading up to next year’s signing day.
“He’s physical. He’s a very physical football player. He’s about 195 pounds and he plays bigger than that,” Callaway coach Pete Wiggins said. “He’s wide-open right now. He’s visited several schools. Cortez is a hard-working kid and a great leader on our football team.”
• Jamari Smith, RB, Fletcher: The senior running back from Neptune Beach, Fla., is making college scouts swoon over his abilities. He’s 6-0, weighs 200 pounds and already has offers from a slew of top Division I programs.
He’s ranked 13th nationally among all-purpose players by 247Sports; as a running back, Rivals has him 37th and Scout 86th.
“He’s probably got 30-plus Division I offers,” said Fletcher coach Josh Corey. “He’s got eight or nine SEC offers and probably eight or nine ACC offers.”
• Johnathan McCrary, QB, Cedar Grove: The 6-4 senior quarterback has racked up more than 6,000 passing yards for the Saints in his career at the Ellenwood high school. He’s ranked No. 3 by Rivals and No. 10 by Scout in the list of dual-threat quarterbacks.
Oh, and he’s also solid in the classroom, which is evident by his verbal commitment to Vanderbilt and additional offers from Florida State and Notre Dame.
“He’s a good athlete and good student,” Cedar Grove offensive coordinator Jimmy Smith said. “He’s an outstanding leader. He understands the importance of academics in college.”
• Will Erwin, TE, Dalton High: While many of the hot stars are coming from miles away, Erwin is among the local blood looking to make a name. The Catamounts’ 6-4, 245-pound senior tight end is ranked No. 60 nationally among tight ends by Scout.
“Will is just a big target,” Dalton coach Matt Land said. “The great thing about him is he runs exceptionally well and has very soft hands. He has on multiple occasions been able to take and make some catches where there’s been an immediate hit.”
— Additional reporting by Daily Citizen correspondents Lindsey Derrick, Larry Fleming and Doug Hawley.