There's plenty of attention being spent on 7-on-7 tournaments, as summer football tournaments rampage their way toward becoming alleged proving grounds ala AAU basketball events. Yet throughout that 7-on-7 revolution, there remains the distinct possibility that they aren't even the best way for a team to prepare for a season.
That possibility was raised this month by the Miami Herald following a three-day "padded camp" at Florida Atlantic University. Unlike 7-on-7 tournaments, padded camps -- which are almost uniformly held at colleges and organized by college staffs -- allow entire teams to suit up and compete in drills against live competition from other high school programs.
"Anytime you are doing padded football activities it is closer to a real simulation of an actual game, which would be better for most any team," RivalsHigh senior analyst Dallas Jackson said. "Of course, states that are allowed to have either 7-on-7 or padded summer practices should count themselves lucky."
If the attendance at the FAU padded camp is any indication, they're certainly gaining popularity, as well. The Owls' three-day camp was attended by no fewer than 15 teams from across Florida, with one of the more notable programs having already attended another padded camp at Boston College.
"We just got back from Boston College and their team camp, so this is yet another thing that will get us all ready for the tough season head," Belen Jesuit (Fla.) High head coach Rich Stuart told the Herald. "We were here last year and the kids got so much out of it."
That sentiment is shared by the athletes themselves, some of whom claimed the difference between tournaments in which contact is allowed and non-contact 7-on-7 games was like night and day.
"This is football," said [Hallandale (Fla.) High defensive back Willie] Bailey. "When you attend a 7-on-7, you are never as mentally prepared as being in full pads. This is one of the best things I've ever been to."
Naturally, not every program can afford to put their entire team through a full padded camp -- for that matter, some schools in the Northeast and Midwest aren't allowed to compete in padded camps or 7-on-7 -- yet the ones who do attend padded camps tend to point to it as a significant advantage over schools that only compete in 7-on-7 tourneys. Much of that may be do to the addition of contact into drills and competitions, but there is also a sense that padded camps cater to building a team dynamic in a way that 7-on-7 tournaments simply don't.
That, of course, is a concept that is only being exacerbated by the growing star culture within the 7-on-7 circuit itself. As more celebrity coaches (and tournaments) step in to mold young athletes, the competitions seem to slowly be morphing away from any concept of representing a future school team to one designed to showcase athletes for their collegiate future.
Other analysts, however, are quick to point out the advantages of 7-on-7 competition, among them the ability to speed up the development of a new quarterback.
"7-on-7, despite its recent criticisms, can be a very valuable tool for teams that choose to participate," Jackson said. "It is most beneficial for a new quarterback and working on developing chemistry in the passing game."
As of yet, there's no strain of the ideology of personal promotion sinking in to padded camps.
"This is something that gets me prepared on both sides of the ball," said Cooper City rising senior receiver/running back/defensive back Camden Krohn told the Herald. "The experience of getting to hit and being hit gives you something different this time of year."