The event, which began with 12 teams in 2008, has grown to include 32 teams this time around. After Saturday’s tournament play, the top team that has not already earned the chance to advance will get a berth to next week’s National Select 7-on-7 Championship in Hoover, Ala.
Three of this weekend’s participants have already earned a place in Hoover, including Lassiter, which makes it in as a qualifier host. North Gwinnett hosted its own 7-on-7 qualifier last month, while North Cobb drew a return trip to Hoover based on its performance in last year’s 7-on-7 events.
Half of this year’s Georgia Invitational field participated in the state playoffs last season, including Class AA champion Jefferson and Class AAAAAA runner-up Lovejoy. North Cobb was a semifinalist last season, while Jefferson and North Gwinnett were quarterfinalists.
Hillgrove, Kell, Walton and Wheeler are also entered into the Georgia Invitational. Hillgrove was one of four programs — joining Lassiter, Lovejoy and North Gwinnett — to enter two units into the tournament.
Pool play will take place today on six fields spread throughout the Lassiter campus. A double-elimination tournament will begin Saturday morning, with the championship game slated for 3:30 p.m.
Because of the event’s growth, Kell will host several of the tournament games Saturday. The schools’ campuses are separated by less than 5 miles
“We’ve been in the Lassiter tournament since the first year it started, and we’ve always been very pleased with how well it’s run and the outstanding competition involved,” Kell coach Derek Cook said. “We’ve been fortunate to be a part of it. It’s an opportunity for us to compete and get better as a program.
“For us, that’s been the most important thing. It’s a great event to see if and how we’re improving.”
Walton coach Rocky Hidalgo has seen his team become a frequent participant of the Georgia Invitational. And while winning the tournament would be nice, Hidalgo, much like his counterpart at Kell, is more interested in seeing how well his players compete, and if they’re getting better.
“I want to see how hard the guys play and hope that they show improvement since the end of spring practice and the offseason in general.
“It’s a good way to wind down in the summer, but we’re going to compete and do what we do. We’re going to evaluate players in the process and find out some more about our team.”
The 7-on-7 format is a product of the continued increase in popularity of the spread offense on the high school level.
Games, played on a 40-yard field, last 21 minutes and teams can score off offensive touchdowns and from defensive stops. The pass-only games are designed to be fast-paced, with quarterbacks required to release the ball within 4 seconds of taking the snap.
A number of top local talent are expected to be participating in the Georgia Invitational, including North Cobb quarterback Tyler Queen (Auburn) and safety Cameron Albright (North Carolina), Wheeler safety Allen Artis (North Carolina) and quarterback Elijah Staley (Mississippi State), Walton quarterback Price Wilson (Louisiana Tech) and Kell defensive back Taylor Henkle (Kennesaw State).