No high school will serve as the host for The Daily Citizen’s Southeastern 7-on-7 Championship, which begins today in Dalton, but that doesn’t mean that the five local programs competing in the two-day tournament aren’t looking to protect their turf.
“It is always good to have something like this in your local area,” said Northwest Whitfield’s Andy Whisenant, junior defensive back. “You don’t have to drive a hundred-something miles, and you get to sleep in your own bed. It would be great if one of the local teams could win it this weekend, and show just how good football in this county is.”
The 32-team tournament begins at noon today with pool play. Pools A, B and C will compete at the James Brown Complex and Pool D will be at the recently completed Mack Gaston Community Center. Eight teams will compete in each pool throughout the day and late into the evening, with the top four teams in each pool advancing to Sunday’s championship bracket and the bottom four competing in the consolation bracket.
Play will begin at 8:30 a.m. Sunday, with the championship final scheduled for 3:30 p.m. at the James Brown Complex. The consolation final is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. at the Mack Gaston Community Center.
Whitfield County schools Northwest, Southeast and Coahulla Creek will join Dalton High and Christian Heritage as the local teams in the draw. Northwest and Coahulla Creek will compete in Pool A, while Dalton will be in Pool B with defending champion Bob Jones of Madison, Ala. Southeast will be in Pool C, while Christian Heritage will play in Pool D.
While the hometown feel of the tournament may appeal to the local players, they were especially excited about seeing the level of competition from teams across Georgia and six other states.
“It is a great opportunity to play against some of the best players and best competition in the nation,” Southeast outside linebacker Damian Manning said. “These are a lot of the best athletes in the South, and it is a chance for every single player to get better going against the best competition. There are a lot of guys that will be on these fields this weekend that you will be seeing on television on Saturdays in the next few years.”
The quality competition is what Dalton starting cornerback Ethan Fromm is looking forward to as well.
“I am looking forward to playing against some of these players that we have read about and heard about and seeing how we match up,” said Fromm, who will also see time at wide receiver. “Whenever you hear about a good player, it is a challenge, but we have played against a lot of big players like Ridgeland’s Vonn Bell (one of the top cornerback recruits in the nation) and Allatoona’s Miles Jones (a Jacksonville State signee). It is just a matter of whether we can hang with them or not.”
Dalton lost quality in its defensive backfield with the graduation of Danté Thomas and Nick Urbain this spring, but Fromm likes what he has seen this summer.
“We are still trying to plug in a little bit here and there, but it is looking good,” Fromm said. “I feel like our linebackers have really stepped it up. They seem a little faster than last year, and I feel like we are compensating for the losses from last year.”
Speed is a something Whisenant is anxious to see this weekend. Last year when the Bruins competed in the Southeastern, Whisenant said he was surprised by the speed of the opposing teams. However, he said this year’s defensive starters have compensated and know what to expect.
“The speed of some of those guys was impressive,” said Whisenant, who will also see time on offense. “It was a good thing for us to look at and to get a little better. The competition is going to be real fun, and I am looking forward to seeing how we match up.”
Coahulla Creek, which will play its first varsity football season this school year, and Christian Heritage, which will play its first season against Georgia High School Association competition, are both rookie squads in the tournament.
However, Christian Heritage junior quarterback Trevor Brown knows what he and his fellow Lions are getting into this weekend.
“The competition is going to be about as good as it gets,” Brown said. “The coaches have definitely tried to pull that out of us. Once we see how we do this weekend, we can have a better idea of where we stand.
“You can look at it as a measuring stick, but I am not as worried about that as us just going out there and working as hard as we can. We want to do our thing and compete with the rest of the teams in the tournament.”
• WHAT: The second annual Southeastern 7-on-7 Championship, hosted by The Daily Citizen, the city of Dalton, the Dalton Area Convention and Visitors Bureach and the Dalton Parks and Recreation Department. Thirty-two teams from seven states will compete for the passing tournament title.
• WHEN: Pool play games begin today at noon; bracket play begins at 8:30 a.m. Sunday.
• WHERE: Games will be played at DPRD facilities — the Mack Gaston Community Center, James Brown Park and the Broaddus-Durkan Soccer Complex. For a complete schedule of today’s games, please see page 3B.
• ADMISSION: Free; tickets are sponsored by Shaw Industries.
• KEEPING UP: A complete preview guide with information on participating teams is available at southeastern7on7.com. Text 7ON7 to 74574 to get updates on the tournament this weekend.