7 on 7 a Big Hit in Orangeburg
By THOMAS GRANT JR.
(Orangeburg) Times and Democrat
Fall practices for high school football players do not officially begin until Aug. 2, but there was still plenty of competitive action taking place Saturday on the campus of South Carolina State University.
For the second consecutive year, the SCSU football coaching staff hosted a "7-on-7" passing tournament. Started locally by Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School head football coach Tommy Brown as the culmination of early summer workouts, this year's tournament held at his alma mater boasted one of its strongest fields. A total 12 teams from the Upstate, Pee Dee, Midlands and Lowcountry converged in Orangeburg for a series of non-contact scrimmages overseen by District Seven officials.
"I think the big thing is getting your team together for a whole day and competing them against some pretty good skilled people in the state," South Aiken head coach Dan Pippen said. "You're not going to get any better skilled people than O-W or (J.F.) Byrnes or Wilson. At least I hope not!"
O-W once again entered two teams into the tournament who, like last year, both made it to the "Final Four". However, history repeated itself as a tournament newcomer upended the two O-W teams enroute to claiming the first-place trophy.
J.F. Byrnes, who weeks earlier placed second in the University of Pittsburgh Northeast passing tournament with a 8-1 mark after losing in the championship game on the final play, took back to Duncan in Spartanburg County the top prize after going 7-0 in the SCSU tournament. Led by new starting quarterback senior Justin Fulbright and corps of speedy wide receivers, the Rebels out of powerful Region 2-AAAA entered the "Trophy Series" held inside Oliver C. Dawson Bulldog Stadium after amassing an impressive 90 points in rolling through the four preliminary games.
After defeating South Aiken in the quarterfinals, J.F. Byrnes rallied in the semifinals to defeat for the second time on the day O-W's second team by the score of 16-3. Making its second championship "7-on-7" tournament game of the summer, the Rebels won this time 19-6 over O-W's first team led by preseason All-State selections quarterback Russell Hemby and wide receiver Marc Smiley.
Playing through late afternoon rainfall, Fulbright showed what he's learned the past three seasons in backing up standout quarterback Anthony Johnson with three touchdown passes. The Rebels' defense also avented a repeat of the Pittsburgh debacle by holding Hemby to a touchdown pass to Smiley on the first series of nine plays and none on the second series.
"It was a lot of fun," said Rebels' head coach Bobby Bentley, whose team has defeated O-W during the regular season two years in a row. "We had a lot of repetitions. I thing our quarterback (Fulbright) threw one interception the whole day. That's the thing we want to do is come out and throw passes. The defense did a good job going up against a very athletic O-W football team."
Despite witnessing his two Bruins' teams place second and third, respectively, Brown still believed they greatly benefited from competing against such a strong field. O-W's first team did earn a measure of revenge from last year with its 19-7 win in the semifinals over defending tournament champion and fourth-place finisher Wilson.
Watching the contest from the sidelines was new SCSU head football coach Oliver "Buddy" Pough, who served one of his two assistant coaching stints at O-W with Wilson head football coach Daryl Page.
O-W's first team also shut out in-county foe Edisto 16-0, although neither head coach believed the outcome is indicative of what will take place when they return to the same campus grounds to kick off the regular season against each other on Thursday, Aug. 29.
"The thing about the '7-on-7', it doesn't necessarily dictate what's going to happen on (Thursday) night because it's a different ballgame than what we normally play," said Edisto head football coach Andy Palmer, who utilized two junior varsity quarterbacks on Saturday. "We normally are going to play a little closer to the vest. So, we got a chance to throw the ball a bunch and got a chance to look at O-W...They're athletic and we'd got to work on our skill people and coverages."
"This has nothing to do with '11-on-11', Brown said. "This is just '7-on-7'. It's really a good opportunity to get your kids some work on their passing game and pass defense. Edisto is a better football team than what we saw today. They're not a throwing football team, they're a running football team. So, this is not their game. This is our game, since we're suppose to beat them with no people rushing the ball. But, with the whole team, it's going to be a whole different game."
The coaches did agree it was a first-class effort put forth in hosting by SCSU.
"It's a big show out here for South Carolina State and I appreciate everything that (SCSU offensive coordinator) Daryl "Brick" McNeill has done and the rest of the staff has done and Coach Pough with allowing us to use these facilities and they run a good '7-on-7' tournament and that's the reason why we keep coming back."
"It's been a blessing and we're just thanking because the competition is getting better and making us better, so we enjoy it," said Brown, a former All-Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference safety with the Bulldogs in 1977. "South Carolina State did a super job of putting this on. Buddy Pough and his staff did a great job and its going to get bigger."
SC Pigskin would like to thank Thomas and all the fine folks at The Orangeburg Times for all they do to promote the game of High Schol Football. Also thanks to SCSU for putting on this first rate program for the teams.