7-on-7 gives players offseason opportunities to make statements

Alonso (Tampa, Fla.) quarterback C.J. Bennett was on fire again.

After leading the Ravens to the overall title at the UCF 7-on-7 shootout over Dwyer (Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.), Bennett was happy, tired and hopeful.

"Hopefully, we opened some people's eyes today," he said.

Despite being one of the best passing quarterbacks at the event and among the state's leaders in yardage, Bennett needs good showings at these events to improve his recruiting status.

His arm strength is more than adequate, his movement in the pocket is better than average and his passes are crisp.

By all accounts Bennett should be among the most coveted quarterbacks in the state. And he would be -- if he were a few inches taller.

Bennett stands about 6 feet tall. Not short by any stretch, but not the preferred height for a major Division 1-A quarterback.

"Most of the quarterbacks that get the publicity in high school are 6-foot-2, 6-3 and 215 pounds," Bennett said. "I try to prove that I'm just as good as they are, even without their height."


So Bennett spends his weekends at camps or 7-on-7 tournaments like the UCF event, where he can go against some of the other top players in the state. In the finals, Bennett led the Ravens past a Dwyer team that included ESPNU 150 Watch List prospects Matt Elam and Gerald Christian. Both Elam and Christian have verbally committed to Florida. Bennett is still open and waiting.

"I got an offer from Wyoming not too long ago," he said. "They were comparing me to Chase Daniel."

Bennett also has offers from the Naval Academy and is getting looked at heavily by UTEP. After the 7-on-7 victory, he is now on UCF's radar.

"Everywhere we go, he knows he's got to put on a show," said Alonso coach Mike Heldt. "One of the great things about him is that he's always up for the challenge. You hope college coaches can see that he's a tremendous competitor and an excellent young man."


That's also one of the positives about 7-on-7 tournaments sprouting up on college campuses around America. It gives high school players another avenue to make an impression on college coaches who might not have had the chance to see them and don't want to rely only on game film.

Naturally, players are jumping at the opportunity to get on college campuses and show off their abilities.

According to noted talented evaluator and Miami Herald recruiting writer Larry Blustein, it's a win-win situation.

"Coaches hate to rely on just watching game film," Blustein said. "And with over 500 schools playing football in this state, it's impossible to see everyone. So hosting these events gives them an opportunity to watch players close up and see if they project on the field in real time as well as they look on film.

"For the players, it's another avenue of exposure. Sometimes a player spent his junior season playing hurt and didn't have a chance to go to the camps. They use these events to get back on the radar."

But while 7-on-7 participation can improve a recruit's profile, it still doesn't hold the same weight as playing well on Friday nights in the fall.

"It's an enhancement," Blustein added. "It shows a little more than a combine. Rather than doing the athletic drills like the 40-yard dash and the vertical jump, the 7-on-7 events are a better idea of a student-athlete's football acumen."

The events aren't all about recruiting, however, as coaches are using the competition to build team chemistry and see how their players perform in a competitive environment. With official summer practice starting in a month, coaches can get a better idea of how much their program has improved from last season.

Yusuf Shakir, a first-year coach at Lincoln (Tallahassee, Fla.), said the events are helping improve the quality of football in the state.

"The 7-on-7 has definitely changed the way the players and coaches prepare for the game," Shakir. "It's good to get our players -- both the starters and the young guys -- those additional repetitions. We've got a tough schedule, and playing against these teams out here will give us a better idea of what to expect in September and October."

These events aren't perfect, and Shakir is quick to point out that it's not a substitute real football game. There is no hitting and no opportunity to establish a running game.

The tournaments are not just limited to college campuses. Several schools in the state hold one-day events to raise money.

New Orleans Saints fullback Heath Evans hosts a 7-on-7 event through his foundation at his alma mater, King's Academy (West Palm Beach, Fla.). In his event, players have the opportunity to compete against NFL pros in races and quarterback accuracy competitions. Booker T. Washington (Miami) won the tournament this year.

But make no mistake about it, competition is still the key, and the players, like Elam, are still playing to win and send a message to the rest of the state.

"We definitely want to come out and make a statement about our team," Elam said. "People might know about me and Gerald, but we have a lot of talent at Dwyer, and this is going to be the first step to winning a state championship."

Corey Long is a freelance writer in Florida.