HURRICANE — When the Mountain State Athletic Conference made the decision to go away from its annual Grid-O-Rama, the league knew it needed another way to showcase its teams in the preseason.
The answer was the MSAC 7-on-7 tournament, which also incorporates a Big Man Challenge to give teams something for all positions on their team to take part in.
Those new 7-on-7 events took place at four separate venues on Thursday: Huntington, Hurricane, South Charleston and Riverside.
They are considered regional events for the finals, which will bring the top two teams of each region to Riverside on Saturday for the championships.
At Hurricane, the eight teams participating included Cabell Midland, Hurricane, Poca, Nitro, Lincoln County, Scott, Chapmanville and Parkersburg South.
The event at Hurricane showed the disparity in opinions about the new format for preseason matchups.
Hurricane coach Jeremy Taylor was pleased to get away from the old system, which featured teams facing two opponent in one-hour scrimmages.
“As far as for the conference, I guess it’s a good thing,” Taylor said. “It’s better than having to play a team in the second scrimmage that you’re going to play in game four or five of the regular season. We normally play these anyway, so it’s a good variation to get everyone together.”
Cabell Midland coach Luke Salmons said he would have rather seen the Grid-O-Rama stay, especially considering his difficulty in finding scrimmages.
While the 7-on-7 format doesn’t do much for Cabell Midland with a run-heavy attack, Salmons said there was still plenty of benefit for his team to get acclimated in coverage on the defensive side of the football.
“It’s who you have to be nowadays on defense because most teams are running the spread,” Salmons said. “We do 7-on-7 periods every day in practice and we’ve been to Marshall and WVU — a lot of places and done it.”
Salmons, who has 100 players at Midland, did opt to bring his younger players to the event instead of risking injury during a 7-on-7 event.
Poca also made the same call with Marshall commit Toby Payne, who was in attendance, but not in uniform for the Dots.
“With where we’re at this close to the season, we don’t want to get people hurt,” Salmons said. “We want to focus on getting our kids better.”
The interesting aspect to the 7 on 7 tournament is that many teams from outside the conference are participating, too.
For example, Parkersburg South made the trip down to compete against schools that they don’t traditionally see this time of year. The Cardinal Conference teams involved also used the event as an advantage to face off against competition from a bigger classification.
One of the biggest focal points for all coaches involved on Thursday was communication among players, especially on the defensive side of the football when players were in motion.
“This stuff is good for communication and running to the football,” Salmons said.
In addition to the 7 on 7 play, the Big Man Challenge drew plenty of interest with linemen from teams taking part in the sled push, bench press and a tug-of-war.
Parkersburg South dominated the Tug-of-War portion, which drew cheers from the skill guys who were on the field in the midst of competition.
Taylor added that, no matter what, it is competition — an aspect that he welcomes in any format.
“I told the kids yesterday, ‘You know, it’s competition,’” Taylor said. “No matter if it’s Backgammon or Chess, go play and play to win. I don’t do anything just to say, ‘Hey, I got a little better today.’ I go to win, so you might as well try to win it.”
While there may be varying opinions on preference of either a Grid-O-Rama or a 7-on-7 format, the one thing coaches agreed on was that it was good to be in a three-week period taking part in live action again.
“Where we were at last year, we weren’t able to do anything,” Salmons said. “Just to be able to do this or anything, it’s a great thing. We’re happy and we’re excited to take part.”
The format for the 7-on-7 had teams taking part in 40-yard games with 20 yards being a first down. Each contest lasted 20 minutes. Upon scoring, teams went for a two-point conversion from the 10-yard line.