CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. – Clarksville High football coach Isaac Shelby had his skill-position players in Tupelo, Miss., competing in a National Select 7-on-7 football tournament last year when he began to wonder why he had to travel so far to take part in a growing competition.
Where is this in Tennessee?
As 7-on-7 continues to raise its profile among high school football teams looking for a chance to sharpen their skills during the summer before the fall season, Tennessee has its fair share of tournament competitions hosted by high schools throughout the state.
But Shelby, who previously was the head coach at Northeast High, had never seen anything quite like the National Select 7-on-7 competition. Shelby and his Wildcats were competing in Tupelo last year during the Mississippi Qualifier, looking for a chance to participate in the national 7-on-7 tournament. Although Clarksville High fell short of that goal, Shelby began asking questions that eventually led to the Mid-South Regional qualifier coming to Clarksville.
“It was the most organized, well-run tournament I’ve ever been to,” Shelby said about his experience in Mississippi last year. “We played some of the best high school teams in the south, but what was really cool was how well-oiled that machine ran. It was just a great experience, and I thought Tennessee needs something like this.”
The Mid-South Regional begins Wednesday with round-robin games starting at 9 a.m. on the Clarksville High campus. Games will be played on the Hilda J. Richardson Field, the main football field, as well as the soccer practice field directly behind the baseball stadium and the football practice field.
Eleven teams make up the Mid-South Regional, and each team is scheduled to play about seven games Wednesday. The double-elimination tournament portion will begin at 9 a.m. Thursday, and the championship game is scheduled to start at 2:30 p.m. Thursday.
National Select has 12 qualifiers around the country. The winners of those qualifiers earn a spot in the national tournament that will be played in Hoover, Ala., next week.
“We used to play at the Vanderbilt 7-on-7 tournament when I was coaching at Northeast,” Shelby said. “But Vandy stopped running that tournament, so we were looking for another tournament to get into when I moved to Clarksville High. The qualifier in Tupelo was out there, and it had an added bonus with a shot at playing in a national tournament.”
Shelby took advantage of his time in Mississippi, asking the National Select organizers in Tupelo what it would take to bring a qualifier to Clarksville.
“They gave me a long list of things to do,” he said. “Most of it was paperwork, but we had to get field ready and painted. We had to secure dates and secure teams, get a hotel for the teams from out of town, and we learned a lot about how other states handle summer football and when their dead periods are.”
In addition to several local teams that will compete in this week’s tournament — like Northeast, Northwest and Montgomery Central — two schools from Alabama (Brooks High and Hazel Green) will be competing, as well as mid-state schools Hillsboro and Mt. Juliet, and also Whitehaven from Memphis.
The tournament will also feature several top high school talents that already have Division-I college football scholarship offers. Hazel Green has two players who have received offers from Middle Tennessee State University, Morehead State, Western Kentucky, Cincinnati, Memphis, Mississippi State and South Carolina.
Whitehaven cornerback Donte Vaughn has offers from Notre Dame, Ole Miss, University of Tennessee, Auburn, LSU, Miami and Texas A&M, and two other players are rated in the top 50 in the state.
“We really hope people come out and watch this tournament because it’s going to be a good one,” Shelby said. “There’s no charge. People can come out and just watch good 7-on-7 football.”
With Clarksville’s selection as this year’s Mid-South Regional site, the city will host this qualifier for the next five years, Shelby said.
“That’s huge because it’s only going to grow,” he said. “These teams in these National Select tournaments are highly competitive, and the kids get excited about playing in a tournament that gives them a chance to move on to the national tournament.”
The competition also sets the tone for high school football before official preseason practice begins the last week of July.
“You get used to scrimmaging your friends before the season starts,” Shelby said. “You end up scrimmaging teams that you are familiar with and comfortable with. But I’ve always been of the mindset that you have to break out of that comfort zone and play schools and teams that will force your kids to get better. Playing a Whitehaven, how do you say no to them? You don’t.”
George Robinson. Prep Writer. 245-0747. email@example.com. Twitter: @Cville_Sports.
National Select 7-on-7 Midsouth Qualifier
Wednesday-Thursday at Clarksville High
Brooks High (Ala.), Civic Memorial (Ill.), Clarksville High, Creek Wood, Hazel Green High (Ala.), Hillsboro, Montgomery Central, Mt. Juliet, Northeast, Northwest, Whitehaven.
Local teams’ first game Wednesday
Clarksville High vs. Montgomery Central, 9 a.m. (Field 2)
Northeast vs. Brooks High, 9:30 a.m. (Field 1)
Northwest vs. Whitehaven, 9:30 a.m. (Field 3)
Double-elimination play begins Thursday