With the rising concerns about player safety, Tavares Williams believes 7-on-7 football is not a fad but instead has staying power as the next generation of the sport.
Williams is the founder of the Gainesville, Florida-based DreamChasers program, which is regarded as one of the best 7-on-7 football programs in the nation. He notes that the small-sided version is less physical than traditional 11-on-11 play, which is why he believes it’s built to last.
“More parents are choosing to keep their kids out of tackle football until high school, and are choosing instead to invest in 7-on-7 and personal training for their athlete,” Williams said. “I expect over the next two years every youth football player will be a part of a 7-on-7 program and every city across America will have a 7-on-7 program.”
7-on-7 differs from regular football in that there are seven people on each side of the ball, there is no tackling or linemen, and play begins at the 40-yard line. Also, the quarterback only has four seconds to throw to a receiver, who is defended in one-on-one pass coverage. The sport has gained popularity in recent years as a less-physical, more up-tempo version of one of America’s most popular sports.
Advocates of 7-on-7 cite the additional opportunities for players to hone their skills and gain added exposure as teams are sponsored by major apparel companies while traveling the country to participate in national tournaments.
Naysayers argue that 7-on-7 is the football version of another controversial circuit: basketball’s AAU. They claim individualism is touted above team in 7-on-7, and they question the involvement of apparel companies given the alleged issues that have come up in college basketball.
Williams, who played defensive back at Troy University in Alabama, says 7-on-7 football has benefits for a lot of the different position groups in football.
“It helps the wideouts and defensive backs get more physical, which creates that edge you want in a player or develops that ‘dog’ in a player as most coaches call it,” Williams said. “Also any QB that plays 7-on-7, their pocket presence and ability to identify defenses and read defenses raises dramatically.”
During a DreamChasers practice, an hour is devoted to a training session, followed by 30 minutes of installing plays and 30 minutes of scrimmage.
Williams, who is also in his eighth season coaching the Gainesville Rattlers, a traditional 11-on-11 football team, gets to experience and coach both versions of the game. There are pros and cons to coaching each discipline, he said. One drawback to 11-on-11, he said, is the amount of defensive schemes coaches have to prepare for.
“In 7-on-7 it's all passing, so it's only so many coverages you can see,” Williams said. “So it's less to prepare for as an offensive coordinator.”
The debate will no doubt continue over the staying power of 7-on-7 football. Regardless, Williams believes 7-on-7 is an excellent supplement to traditional 11-on-11 football when the proper leadership, culture and environment are instilled.
“When you focus on more than just winning, those kids go on to be contributors at their prospective high schools because their skill level is so much higher than kids who don't participate,” Williams said. “7-on-7 is an in-your-face type of game so it helps kids learn how to compete at a high level.”
From GameChanger and Rolando Rosa
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