Photo: David McGregor. GAC's Clay Metzger catches a pass as Maynard Jackson's Jheryl Washington tries to defend during GAC's Fellowship of Christian Athletes 7-on-7 passing league on Thursday.
NORCROSS -- The increasing trend of high school football teams taking part in summer 7-on-7 passing camps, tournaments and weekly leagues in recent years is one many coaches have embraced in order to get valuable offseason work in.
However, Greater Atlanta Christian coach Tim Cokely is hoping his Spartans -- and teams from a handful of other schools that will come to Spartan Stadium throughout the summer -- will gain even more out of their weekly outings.
Yes, GAC and different opponents engage in regular 7-on-7 games in accordance with Georgia High School Association rules each Thursday evening, giving each team a chance to work on its respective passing offense and defense.
However, there is also much more to each evening following the games.
There's an evening of faith and fellowship that includes a collective meal involving players from all the teams involved, plus a guest speaker to briefly address the team in order to induce discussions of the Christian faith.
"One of the things at our school is big on is our kids go to missions," Cokely said. "This is an opportunity for them to practice and do instead of to listen.
"To have a ... great speaker with a great message. He can talk from about three minutes to about seven minutes because ... after that, it becomes a lecture. The kids from other schools get to hear it that don't hear it on a daily basis. It's a chance for our kids to ... mingle with other kids that aren't always like them and sit down with them afterwards and share what they believe and have a meal. Hopefully, the kids from other schools will be receptive to listening to our kids. At the very least, we'll have some connection in that we're all football players."
With the assistance of Gwinnett County's chapter of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, GAC has put together one of these outings every week -- with the exception of the week of July 4, mandated as a dead period by the GHSA -- through the beginning of preseason practice in August.
After initially welcoming other Christian-based private schools like Landmark Christian, Fellowship Christian and Mt. Pisgah, GAC is branching out by welcoming other schools very different from itself from around Gwinnett County and the metro Atlanta area, such as Shiloh, Maynard Jackson of Atlanta and North Atlanta.
The Spartans have also welcomed a variety of guest speakers, such as former Atlanta Falcons linebacker Tim Green the opening week on June 16.
It has become a very enjoyable and meaningful evening for many of the Spartan players.
"Just to know that we're bringing it out here on the field and sharing it with other teams, ... it's definitely fulfilling," said David McTier, the Spartans' co-starting quarterback and president of GAC's FCA program. "And, of course, we're all about working hard, especially here at GAC. It's a good time of year to get better (on the field) and prepare yourself for the season coming up."
Football is also a big focus each week, though Cokely says the on-field focus will be rather narrow -- at least initially -- with a format that encourages the fundamentals, rather than which team scores the most points.
"We don't necessarily keep score," Cokely said. "We're just trying to get better. We do play in some tournaments where they keep score, but this creates an environment where we can run what we want to run -- we can run our offense -- they can run what they want to run. We don't feel the pressure to win the game, as opposed to getting better."