In a football coach’s toolbox, the 7-on-7 is quickly becoming one of the favorite methods of evaluation and chemistry-building during summer contact days.

Organized 7-on-7 leagues grew out of flag football, which got its start on Army bases during the 1940s as a means of recreation for military personnel.

Fast-forward a few decades, and it is now one of the hottest new tactics in college recruiting.

“Basically, we’re wanting to work on skills and installing what we’re running this season,” said Murphysboro coach Gary Carter. “We’re not a passing team, but we’ve gone to three 7-on-7 tournaments and there is conditioning involved.”

The Red Devils participated in tournaments at SIU, University of Illinois and Bethalto Civic Memorial last month. The team has a 7-on-7 battle with Mount Vernon tentatively scheduled for Aug. 2, but the format and organization of each event can vary depending on the host.

“It’s typically pool play in a round-robin format, with the results of pool play determining who you play in the later rounds,” Carter said. “At U of I, there was a set schedule with teams of similar enrollment playing each other.”

AAU guidelines require games to be played with a 30-minute running clock on 40-yard fields, plus an additional 10 yards for the end zone. All possessions start at the 40-yard line, no matter where the defense stops the offense.

“I look at it as a teaching tool,” Carter said. “Some coaches don’t look at it that way, but you can slow things down and it’s great for the kids and the program.”

No running plays are allowed and the quarterback has four seconds to release the ball or the play is blown dead. Touchdowns are six points each, while each series gets only one first down — when the offense reaches the 20 within four downs.

There is no tackling allowed, with one or two-hand contact stopping the play.

“The biggest fear is getting somebody hurt,” Carter said. “I had a kid break his leg in a 7-on-7 against Elkville.”

For programs that are rebuilding or undergoing a coaching transition, 7-on-7s can be an effective process to determine what assets a coach has to work with. In Sparta, coach Joe Bevis enters his second season rebuilding a program that hasn’t had a winning season since 1994.

“They’re helpful in a number of ways,” Bevis said. “It helps your kids build some confidence, it’s relevant in deciding who your defensive backs are and it gives you a more realistic gauge on your athleticism.

“It’s not the end-all, be-all because you’re not tackling, but I do enjoy them because it gets the kids out and competitive.”

Part of the allure of 7-on-7 tournaments is the attention they get from college coaches and recruiting websites. ESPN has also aired some of them in the past.

“They actually have (7-on-7) All-Star teams,” Carter said. “They run a generic offense and defense and they were showcases for college coaches to watch.

“It’s quite an honor to be on those teams.”

Despite criticism that it’s not “real football,” there are benefits to 7-on-7s. With improvements in the passing game, team chemistry and overall athleticism, it has become one of the fixtures of summer football.

“You really get to see the athleticism of your players,” Bevis said. “I’ve heard 7-on-7s referred to as ‘basketball on grass,’ and it is very, very quick.

“But, it doesn’t determine whether or not you’re going to have a successful season.”

On Twitter: @PeteTheSouthern

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