Photo: Lance Hinton/recruit757
Game Academy 7v7 opened at the Virginia Beach Sportsplex
by Andy Hilton, recruit757
On Friday nights in the fall, we’re used to the sound of cheering, the smacking of helmets and pads, the joyful noise of the game we love.
While high school stadiums across the state are dark on Friday Nights for the time being, the Virginia Beach Sportsplex is hosting a 7v7 league run by the GAME Academy to hold you over.
None of the team names are familiar. The faces will be familiar when you look closely.
Green Run defensive back Tayon Holloway. Lake Taylor linebacker/running back Malik Newton. Ocean Lakes defensive end/outside linebacker Naquan Brown. The list of names go on and on. Athletes are hungry to compete and coaches are hungry… well… to coach.
“It is unconventional, it is different to get ready for the season, but we’re out here under the lights. It’s Friday night. We’re doing interviews. We’re talking ball, so nothing could be better than this weekend right here,” said Oscar Smith head coach Chris Scott who was on hand for the action. “I love how the guys got up for it and the intensity was there.”
Because of Coronavirus mandates, players wore masks for the most part. Fans were sprinkled through the stands. The upper deck at the Sportsplex was open in order to accommodate more people. Virginia Governor Ralph Northam relaxed restrictions on the Hampton Roads area effective on Friday so the timing couldn’t have been better for the opening night of the league.
“It’s good to come out here and compete. It feels good to be back out here. I’m loving the competition and we have a nice crowd out tonight,” said Indian River head coach Marcus Ferebee. “I think it’s good for the kids to get out here and play some football.”
While quite a few notable head coaches were on hand, VHSL rules restrict high school teams from playing competitively as a high school team at this time. In order to comply, teams are blended and may have players from two, three, four or many more high schools together on the same roster. That makes for some interesting lineups and interesting competitive dynamics.
Q Payton coaches at Green Run and his squad has many Green Run players on the roster. Instead of being called Green Run, or being called the Stallions, the team has adopted the moniker of “The Stable.” That team lit up the scoreboard Friday night and had two wins to show for it.
“Our coaching staff challenges the kids a lot so they can be great. On every play, I want greatness. On defense, I want greatness. If you’re lazy, that’s how mistakes happen. That’s how drops happen. That’s how guys get open. We challenge these guys every day,” Coach Payton explained. “This is about keeping the kids motivated. We’re looking at (what would have been) week three in the regular season. We have to find creative ways to keep these guys interested.”
That’s been the challenge since the school year was disrupted in March. The spring schedule didn’t go as planned so there was no 7v7 season. There was no Spring Evaluation period where college coaches visit the schools in April and May. There was no college camp season. A lot of kids who would have earned offers this spring and summer saw opportunities evaporate. There are a lot of rising seniors who are still searching for their first college scholarship offer. The lack of a fall football season is really hurting them.
“It’s important for the kids to be in their element and do what they’ve been doing since Pop Warner. It’s important for us coaches to do what we’ve been doing for the past 15 years,” Churchland head coach Dontrell Leonard said. “You don’t get anything for winning this. At the end of the day, it’s all about the kids and building our chemistry. We don’t have an off-season. They’ve been sitting for the last six or seven months not doing anything (organized). We’re getting the kids out here, loosening up their muscles, getting their exercise in, so it’s a great thing.”
GAME Academy directors Deon Glover and Zohn Burden put on the event which is going to run as a ten-week season with a playoff and championship at the end. Burden has coached at the college level and Glover just recently sent his son, Tony Grimes, off to UNC to play his freshman season with the Tarheels. The organization understands the importance of providing opportunities for our young people.
“We’re trying to help the 21s spearhead their recruiting. We’ve had no evaluation since January. We haven’t had any college coaches come down here and evaluate any players. Visits to programs have been shut down. That kind of killed all evaluation. With the season being cancelled, with fall sports being cancelled here in Virginia, we had to do something. We had to think fast,” Glover said regarding their event.
While Division I college coaches can’t attend the games, they can watch film from the games and they can catch a live stream if they happen to be available on Friday nights. Colleges who aren’t playing this fall have turned their attention to recruiting. That could be good for the athletes of the Class of 2021, but opportunities to showcase have been hard to come by.
– Andy Hilton