Four Texoma football teams are headed to the state 7-on-7 tournament looking to have some more summer success before getting down to business in August.
Bonham, Melissa, Celina and Gunter all qualified to play in the tournament, which will be held Thursday and Friday at Veterans Park and Athletic Complex in College Station. Pool play starts at 1 p.m. today while bracket play begins on Friday morning.
Melissa, Celina and Bonham will play in the Division II tournament while Gunter is set to battle in the Division III tournament.
The Bonham Warriors are coming off a tough season where they failed to make the playoffs but competing in big games like these can help to give confidence to an improving team. Bouncing back and winning in 7-on-7 after a rough 2017 campaign shows that the returning Warriors are determined to turn things around.
“One of the first thing we noticed about these guys is how hungry they are to win,” new Bonham head coach John Fish said. “That’s something that you can’t coach.”
Fish is confident that when things are done the right way by both the players and the coaching staff, success will come in due time.
“My focus is on building a program built around energy and enthusiasm,” Fish said. “I think as long as we stick to that, we’ll be successful regardless. This success just shows that our system works.”
This is the second straight year, and overall, that Bonham qualified for state 7-on-7. The Warriors are in Division II’s Pool C with Goliad, La Vega and Rockport-Fulton.
With the addition of a Division III tournament (1A-3A Division II schools) for the first time, the Gunter Tigers are making their first state 7-on-7 appearance. The program is coming off a second straight trip to the 3A Division II state championship game.
“If we’re going to put Gunter on the front of our chest, we’re going to go out and compete,” Gunter head coach Jake Fieszel said. “We’ve had a great summer up to this point in our workouts. We’re very proud of qualifying for the tournament.”
Despite many people viewing 7-on-7 football as meaningless games due to how different it is from traditional football with helmets and pads, Fieszel and his team find it to be very important for reasons aside from just inside the lines.
“7-on-7 to me is important because you get your kids together and have them work together,” he said. “There are a lot of benefits and we try to focus on those.”
In the 16-team Division III tournament, pool play will determine the seeding — 1-4 — for championship bracket play. Gunter is in Pool P with Alpine, Falls City and Johnson City.
Much like Gunter, the Melissa Cardinals are coming off a terrific season where they lost just two games after reaching the Class 4A Division II Region II final against eventual state champion Pleasant Grove. Head coach Seth Stinton thinks the most important part of 7-on-7 is to get back to competing and he is happy with what he has seen from his players.
“Our kids want to do well and want to compete, and I think that’s the most important thing,” Stinton said.
7-on-7 also gives teams a chance to find rhythm and continuity as a unit heading into a new season.
“The biggest thing is it gives our quarterback and receivers more timing and that’s probably the biggest thing that it does,” Stinton said. “It helps much more offensively with rhythm.”
Melissa is in Division II’s Pool I with Pleasant Grove, Pleasanton and Stephenville. The Cardinals, who won the D-II 7-on-7 title in 2011, have qualified every year but one (2016) since their first trip in 2007.
The Celina Bobcats entered 7-on-7 play after a pretty good 2017 when they were able to reach the state playoffs and finish with a 9-4 record. Head coach Bill Elliott says that 7-on-7 is important to help his team get back into football condition and prepare for the new season.
“It’s something we’ve done since they started doing 7-on-7 just to help us get out and compete together… work on our skills and our man coverage,” Elliott said.
The Bobcats want to instill a winning mentality in each of their players and that’s what Elliott and his coaching staff see from the success in 7-on-7. Celina, which is in Division II’s Pool J with Glen Rose, Mexia and Houston Worthing, is one of the top teams at state 7-on-7 with 17 appearances, 12 consecutive, and a record four titles (2000, 2007, 2009, 2012).
“You always want to teach your kids to win and to compete in everything they do,” Elliott said. “We’re trying to work on football but we’re also trying to teach our kids to compete and we’re trying to win.”