For the Trojans, the two-time defending champion of the local tournament, it will be their fifth year as host. They will be joined by 23 other teams at the regional event, which has doubled in size since its inaugural appearance in 2008.
“Since our first year, we have grown from 12 teams, to 24 teams this year, so we have come a long way,” Lassiter coach Jep Irwin said. “It just shows how much the 7-on-7 format has grown over the years.”
Pool play will begin today at 9 a.m., with double-elimination competition scheduled to start Saturday at 9 a.m. The championship game is slated for 4:30 p.m., with a second title contest — if necessary — to follow.
Saturday’s champion will advance to next week’s national championship in Hoover, Ala. If Lassiter, which already has a spot in the national event as host of the Georgia Invitational, wins, then the runner-up would move on.
The Trojans will be joined by county rivals Walton, Hillgrove, Kell, North Cobb and Kennesaw Mountain in the field.
The tournament field also includes a number of other state playoff teams, such as last year’s Class AAAA runner-up, Lovejoy, as well as North Gwinnett, M.L. King, Alpharetta, Flowery Branch, Westminster and Centennial.
Though it already has a spot in the national championship as its host, Alabama powerhouse Hoover will participate at Lassiter with an out-of-state contingent that also Florence and Sidney Lanier of Alabama, Eastside (S.C.) and Chattanooga Christian (Tenn.).
Irwin is excited about the strong field of teams that includes four region champions and two state runners-up from 2011.
“We have so many good teams in this tournament, so the level of competition will be incredible,” Irwin said. “We also have so many BCS recruits. We should have about 20-30 BCS recruits participating, so we’re going to be seeing some of the top college prospects in the state. It should be very exciting.”
Irwin should know about recruits. His team includes quarterback Eddie Printz (UCLA) and two of his receivers, Clemson-bound Ryan Jenkins and uncommitted Juwan Dickey.
Walton is highlighted by its Alabama-bound tandem of quarterback Parker McLeod and running back Tyren Jones, while Hillgrove has tight end Evan Engram (Mississippi) and cornerback Tolando Cleveland (Georgia Tech). North Cobb running back Quinten James also has a handful of major-college offers.
The 7-on-7 format is a product of the rising popularity of the spread offense on the high school level over the last few years.
Each game lasts 21 minutes, with points scored for offensive touchdowns and defensive stops. The contests are fast-paced, with quarterbacks required to release the ball within 4 seconds of taking the snap.
Kell has had its share of success in the 7-on-7 format with two tournament wins in June, at Central Gwinnett and McEachern.
“We’ve had some good success in 7-on-7,” Kell coach Derek Cook said, “but we’ve got some guys beat up, so we’re not at full strength. We’re more concerned with winning games in the fall than in 7-on-7 tournaments in the summer, but it is a good way to prepare for the season.”
In last year’s title game at Lassiter, the host Trojans prevailed with a 37-36 double-overtime win over Flowery Branch.