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Tigers hold own at National 7-on-7 championship

The Greenville Tigers varsity football team suddenly found themselves as medium-sized fish in a very large pond this weekend as the squad competed in the Hoover-hosted National 7-on-7 championship.

The tournament hosted teams from all over the Southeast region, and Greenville earned its ticket with an earlier first-place finish in the USA 7-on-7 Regional Qualifier in Montgomery last month.

Greenville head football coach Josh McLendon said that there was a noticeable difference between the two experiences for he and his team.  Most notably was the opposition.

“The competition was a step above where it was in Montgomery,” McLendon said. “We played mainly 6A and 7A schools.  I would guess that we were one of the smallest schools there. 

“But I thought we played really well.  We finished 3-3 after the first two days, which allowed us to be 21st place out of 40 teams.  So we qualified for bracket play Saturday.”

The Tigers lost to Gasden City and Bob Jones of Huntsville on Thursday, and went on to beat Minor High School.

Greenville reversed its fortunes on the following day with wins over Jeff Davis and Hillcrest Tuscaloosa after falling that morning to Park Crossing.

Thursday and Friday’s performances allowed the Tigers to qualify for bracket play Saturday, but a narrow 19-18 loss to Brunswick, a Georgia-based team, ended the Tigers’ tournament hopes.

Despite the tough loss, McLendon said that his players got more than their money’s worth from the experience of playing a variety of teams that Greenville wouldn’t normally have the opportunity to face.

And though coaches often take inspiration from seeing teams outside of their region play, McLendon said that the Tigers were largely working on themselves the entire weekend.

“We look at maybe how they do things, but we also want to focus on what we do,” McLendon said.  “We might have a few special things here and there, but everything we do in the summer is what we’re going to do in the fall.  And it’s not like we have a bunch of packaged plays and routes for 7-on-7.  I think it’s important to develop your receivers and quarterback so that it becomes second-nature to them.

“7-on-7 games are different from normal football.  I think sometimes teams do things differently than they would in the regular season.  They run plays that they wouldn’t normally play, and I try not to do that.  I try to run exactly what we’ll run in the fall.  I don’t like to draw up plays just for 7-on-7; I want to make sure that the stuff we’re doing will benefit us in the fall.

“And I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that.  But it’s a lot different when your quarterback can just stand back there and not feel any pressure. And they just run a lot of different routes that aren’t really conducive to what it’s going to be like on Friday night.”

The Tigers aren’t quite finished with the summer, as Greenville will travel to Troy University for one last camp on July 25.

Troy University will be hosting an Organized Team Activity, or OTA, in which the entire Tigers team will get some valuable experience that is a bit less removed from a full football game.

“So the entire team will be involved—the O-line and D-line will get work.  There will be some 1-on-1, some 7-on-7 and some 11-on-11,” McLendon said.

“We’ll be in a group with Autauga Academy and Andalusia.  We’ll be competing against them and running our run and pass plays against them.  It’ll be more like a game on Friday night, and being able to run your entire offense as opposed to just passing.”

The Tigers will take a week or so off afterward before starting up again on Aug. 7 for fall camp.