George Durant, assistant coach at Ballard High School and former University of Louisville linebacker, has surveyed the landscape of high school football over the past few years. As a student of the game while playing under Charlie Strong and now teacher of the game at Ballard, he’s witnessed the evolution of 7-on-7 travel clubs in the sport of football, and believes there is promise for the future.
While he maintains a positive outlook on 7-on-7 – as the ‘AAU’ of football – there still remains speculation towards travel teams, as some skeptics have become reserved as to whether to throw all their eggs in one basket of such organizations. Durant has been aware of that, even naming a couple of well known coaches in the college ranks.
“You have David Shaw out of Stanford and Urban Meyer out of Ohio State that have both said they would never offer a kid a scholarship out of a 7-on-7,” he says.
And while Durant is an assistant coach with his travel team Go Hard Elite, he’s still confident that the league will spark interest for many college coaches.
“Coaches may not offer a scholarship solely on 7-on-7, but what does happen is that they gain interest. You see a guy that shows some athletic ability and you gain interest. And now that there is an interest gained, coaches will start to recruit a player, visit the high schools, and watch film on the kid. This ultimately leads to an offer. This is the recruiting process.”
Go Hard Elite, which plays in the Top Gun 7v7 League, has been ranked No. 1 in the state of Kentucky and No. 17 in the southeastern conference as the league imitates conferences in the NCAA. Once high school football ends around December, players return after Christmas break to train and tryout for travel ball that coming January.
“The season cranks up in January and it ends in the second week in June,” Durant adds. “We have our tryout the first week in January and we try to travel in the last week in January. We then fund raise and just practice the entire month of February to help the kids out because its travel ball. We practice and fund raise for the entire month of February, and then participate in maybe one or two tournaments a month which leads to the National Tournament, which is held in Dallas, Texas at The Cowboy’s stadium.”
He says 7-on-7 ball has been on the rise since 2011, and companies like Nike and Adidas are starting to “pour their money” into it, but there is a definite need community wise to help support teams.
The league creates a unique opportunity for players to showcase their skills around the nation, as teams in the Southeastern conference within Top Gun are able to travel to states such as Tennessee, Georgia, Florida, Alabama and South Carolina to compete.
At this point, recruiting sites like 247Sports and MaxPreps are heavily involved to provide information to the public and high school coaches. But while the NCAA maintains regulations on college coaches to attend specific NCAA events, Durant is still confident Division I coaches are gaining inside information about players who participate in travel ball.
Who does he point to as evidence? U of L wide receiver Justin Marshall.
The 6-foot-2, 189-pound wide out, played for Go Hard Elite, and as a sophomore “didn’t have a single college offer,” Durant says. But by the time he was a senior, he had 36.
He says it all started when the team participated in a showcase in Alabama, and a senior sports writer for the Alabama Crimson Tide noticed Marshall and his talent. He began to inquire about who he was, and vowed to post information about him via social media since Alabama was not actively recruiting him.
Well, when you have the senior sports writer for Alabama – which is arguably the most dominant college football program in the last decade – interested and providing interest to the public, somebody is going to pay attention. So Durant says, with so much upside and promise Marshall’s mailbox overflowed during his senior year of high school.
Durant remains a firm believer that people are definitely watching, and even challenges other states to become believers in the rise of 7-on-7 football.
“Florida has a 7-on-7 state tournament. All the teams in north, Central and South Florida play, and then they meet in Orlando in the Citrus Bowl and they have a state championship tournament. So you can call it what you want to, but if the best states for high school football in America are actively and aggressively pursuing this avenue, then everybody else needs to get on board too.” VT