Call Keyshawn 'coach'

Keyshawn Johnson big proponent of 7-on-7 football that can give a real edge for midwinter improvement of California kids.

SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO -- Make sure the video of Monday's B2G Elite 7-on-7 tournament at JSerra High School does not get back to much of the rest of the country -- that part of the nation where four of the Power Five conferences reside.

Not on this day.

Not with this bright sunlight, temperature in the mid-70s, some 400 high school football players flying around the magnificent JSerra campus which might not be quite to the standards of Las Vegas' Bishop Gorman yet -- but it's getting there.

Who knows, this might precipitate new NCAA legislation outlawing something they're surely not doing in most of SEC country as a blizzard works its way through Arkansas and Missouri, Tennessee, Kentucky, Georgia, the Carolinas. And forget about anything up north.

"Maybe they're doing it inside," Keyshawn Johnson, coach of the Adidas Team 19, said with a big grin. Keyshawn knew that wasn't happening as four games at a time were going on two of the turf fields on a schedule that had the 19 teams playing, barely resting, and playing again.

This comes on the heels of a 24-team, 500-player Sunday 7-on-7 tournament in Riverside with mostly different teams.

And all under the watchful eye of the volunteer coaches, parents, siblings in numbers maybe more than the players with their coolers, chairs, tents on this Presidents Day holiday.

Even in the high school football hotbeds of Texas and Florida, they don't get this kind of weather or chance to play football in the middle of the winter. It's why the SEC and all the rest are coming to California for quarterbacks and skill players.

But why USC great Keyshawn is here, a hands-on playcaller in the huddle with a constant word of advice for his players, is simply this: "I didn't get a chance to do this, coming from the inner city. I wanted to see these kids get the chance."

He started six years ago, took a year off, then picked up with his nephew, Michael Thomas, "the big receiver at Ohio State," is how he describes the Buckeye starter.

"And now my son is playing (16-year-old sophomore Keyshawn Jr., who has gotten recent offers from the likes of Alabama, Clemson and Louisville). Both wear No. 3, just like Keyshawn. "He's the lazy one over there," he says with a laugh and loud enough for his son to hear him.

But this is more than a family thing for Keyshawn. Nor is it a USC thing, although that's never far from the tip of his Trojans cap. It's a football thing.

"You watch these kids, the more they do this, from their sophomore to junior to senior years, they just get better and better and better," he says. "Their skill sets -- for the quarterbacks, receivers, defensive backs, just keep improving."

That's why Keyshawn likes the 7-on-7 game. "It's tougher for them here," he says, whether their high school coaches agree or not. "They really learn how to play."

And it's a chance for players like the Gardena Serra duo of Khalil Tate and Brandon Burton to show what they can do play after play. Same for Corona Centennial's Javon McKinley, if only his team would look his way. Same for young Keyshawn.

And maybe even more so for the guys on defense. As good as this is for the QBs and wide receivers, which is obvious, getting to defend this many passes play after play after play does wonders for the defensive backs and linebackers. You'll never get this many reps in a high school practice.

Tate, a 6-foot-plus, 195-pound athlete spent more of the day at quarterback for Keyshawn, showing a strong arm but not a great deal of polish after just a year as quarterback.

He can be a college QB "at West Virginia, Arizona, maybe even Oregon," Keyshawn says, but maybe not at a place like USC where you'd be expected to be a fully finished product after your redshirt year. For USC, he's an athlete prospect.

Although thanks to 7-on-7 play, Tate will get plenty of chances to work at his game.

As will all the others here, unlike of course, the football prospects who reside in most of the 40 or so states not in the Pac-12. Those folks will have to wait for the spring thaw.

You can follow me on Twitter at @dweber3440 or email me at weber@uscfootball.com.


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