North's passing league tourney is this week

File photo North Gwinnett head football coach Bob Sphire.

File photo North Gwinnett head football coach Bob Sphire.

High school football fans will have to wait until August for real games, but they can still watch some quality competition this week.

The fourth annual North Gwinnett National Select 7-on-7 Qualifier, hosted by the Bulldogs, is Thursday and Friday at Gary Pirkle Park in Sugar Hill. The 20-team competition features some of the region's top teams battling it out for a spot at the national finals later in the summer.

Though most of the field is Georgia-based, perennial powerhouses Olive Branch (Miss.) and Byrnes (S.C.), both regular participants in North's showcase, are back this summer.

"It's not real football, but it is a pretty glorified way of practicing your players with a competitive nature to it," North head football coach Bob Sphire said. "Our Touchdown Club does a great job with it and our community does a great job getting out to this kind of stuff. And Gary Pirkle does a great job of hosting it."

North qualified for the national finals in 2010, when it finished as tourney runner-up to Olive Branch, but lost in the third round last season. Eventual Class AAAAA state champion Grayson defeated fellow Gwinnett County team Norcross in last summer's championship game.

The event, run by Ken Manning and the North Touchdown Club, features pool play on Thursday, followed by double-elimination play on Friday.

Admission to the tourney is $5 per person or $10 per family. North needs volunteers beginning at 7:30 a.m. each day. Anyone interested in helping out can contact Manning at ken.manning@charter.net.

The Bulldogs' 7-on-7 event kicks off a busy summer of preparation leading up to its Aug. 17 preseason scrimmage with Stephenson. North's first official game is Aug. 25 against Colquitt County in the Georgia Dome for the Corky Kell Classic.

That showcase will be followed up with another on Sept. 1, when it hosts the National High School Gridiron Challenge, a tripleheader this year that concludes with North playing A.C. Flora (S.C.) at 6 p.m. It will be preceded by Stephenson vs. Pine Forest (Fla.) at noon and Valdosta vs. North Augusta (S.C.) at 3 p.m.