This summer, the nation's best high school players showcased their talents …playing two-hand touch. With scouts and recruiters looking on, and hip-hop blaring from massive speakers, teams of seven skill players in shorts and T-shirts ran one quick-passing play after another — basically a no-contact version of today's pro offense.
Once dismissed as a school-yard perversion or, worse, a breeding ground for shady recruiting akin to basketball's AAU, 7-on-7 has become essential off-season training. Top recruits now receive dozens of invitations to tournaments all across the country. "It has done an incredible amount for the game," says Washington State coach Mike Leach, whose "Air Raid" offense resembles the spread-out style of 7-on-7. "It's helped players develop their skills, especially quarterbacks."
A long list of current QBs, including Matthew Stafford, Robert Griffin III, and Andrew Luck, played 7-on-7 in high school. Former Pro Bowl receiver Keyshawn Johnson, who sponsors a team in Orange County, says he's seen the skills developed in touch football ripple all the way to the NFL. "Quarterbacks are more ready to throw because they've been going through 7-on-7 for so long," Johnson says. "Receivers are more polished, and defensive backs are more equipped."
College coaches can't officially host competitions on campus, but private-league organizers can. Some of the toughest tournaments are held on the practice fields of the nation's top college programs, including USC, Michigan, and Alabama. A weekend of 7-on-7 can be especially valuable for players from small programs who rarely play against top competition or in front of scouts.
"I knew from my recruiting process that the valuation of athletes wasn't efficient," says Baron Flenory Jr., a former All-American cornerback at the University of New Hampshire, who started the Pylon Elite Camps 7-on-7 tournaments. "Recruiters only seemed to want measurements: height, weight, reps, and 40 times. This is a better way to evaluate talent."