Photo by Christine Troyke
North Gwinnett is making a return trip the to the National Select 7-on-7 championship.
That's no shocker.
The Bulldogs have been one of the state's premier passing teams in recent years.
The surprise comes from the local team that will join them in Hoover, Ala., for the three-day tournament that begins on July 21.
The Grayson Rams, one of the state's top teams for running the wing-T, will make their first appearance in the tournament after winning the qualifier hosted by North last month.
"We've got a really good quarterback that can sling it in Nick (Schuessler) and we've got some good receivers that can catch it," Grayson coach Mickey Conn said. "But we're still a run-first team. We'll be ready to throw it if we need to."
The 32-team tournament features a who's who of some of the nation's top high school football programs. Alabama powers Hoover, Prattville, Spain Park and defending champion George Washington Carver are in the tournament. South Carolina power Dorman, Mississippi's Olive Branch and Arkansas' Shiloh Christian are also in the tourney.
There will be four eight-team pools and the teams will be seeded for the double-elimination tournament.
Grayson defeated Norcross in the championship game last month at Gary Pirkle Park to earn a berth in the national tournament. Schuessler guided the Rams along with receivers Korey Jones and Austin Meadows.
"I thought we might win. I thought we had a chance," Conn said. "When you've got a quarterback like Nick and a receiver like Korey Jones and some other ones to go along with him, you've got a chance."
The trip to Hoover forced Conn to reschedule the team's FCA camp at West Georgia this week. The Rams were originally going the same days as the national tournament, but bumped it up a few days to attend both camps.
"We want to win, we want to be successful. I truly did this for the kids," Conn said. "They wanted to do this. It's a reward for them and I want them to go have fun. We're playing to win, but I'm not putting any pressure on them to do anything. I just want them to compete and play hard."
This will be the sixth year North has qualified for the national tournament. The Bulldogs earned a spot this season by hosting a qualifier. North is coming off an 11-1 season, but has needed the summer passing league to rebuild its starting lineup. The Bulldogs lost their only returning receiver, Tyler Nemec, to an injury this summer and running back/receiver Chad Scott is out with mono. That will leave quarterback Scotty Hosch the challenge of trying to find a go-to receiver.
"I think right now we're going to struggle with some of the competition over there," North head coach Bob Sphire said. "We've got a young and inexperienced team. We're looking to get some work against some great competition."