SUGAR HILL — Byrnes’ football program is consistently one of the best in the country every year.
The Duncan, S.C., school was the talk of the day during Thursday’s North Gwinnett National Select 7-on-7 Qualifier at Gary Pirkle Park.
Byrnes’ A and B teams combined to go 14-0 during pool play and were seeded first going into today’s double elimination tournament action.
“Our kids are playing good,” Byrnes coach Chris Miller said. “We’ve gone against each other for so long, they were excited to go against someone else.”
Byrnes’ A team won by an average of 31 points and its closest win was a 30-19 victory of 2010 tournament champion Olive Branch (Miss.) in game one.
Byrnes’ B team won by an average of 12 points. Its closest win was 25-23 victory over North Gwinnett’s A team.
“They slice and dice. Nobody has come close to them today,” Central Gwinnett head coach Todd Wofford said. “If you want to see how a passing league team operates look at Byrnes. They’ve been doing it for years.”
Byrnes won its fourth state championship in five years and 11th overall last season. The Rebels are regular participants in passing league tournaments across the the Southeast. They’ve put two teams in the finals of some tournaments and could do that again when today’s tournament play begins at 9 a.m.
“There’s some good teams here,” Miller said. “It’s a marathon tournament, it really is. You have to come back a second day and be ready to play.”
Grayson won the tournament last year and the Rams’ A team went 4-3 in pool play. Grayson’s B team was 4-3 as well. North’s A team went 3-4 and the B team was 1-6. Central Gwinnett went 3-4 and Shiloh was 1-6.
Rams’ Nkemidche shines as receiver
Opposing football teams have had to worry about Grayson’s Robert Nkemdiche as a menacing defensive end and bruising running back the last two years. The nation’s No. 1 recruit added another dimension on Thursday — receiver.
Nkemdiche was used extensively as a receiver out of the backfield for the Rams during Thursday’s passing league tournament.
“He’s a great athlete,” Grayson head coach Mickey Conn said. “He’s a running back, so he needs to understand the offense. I know he’s recruited by everyone as a defensive end, but he’s going to play some offense for us.”
Nkemdiche caught several passes, including a long touchdown in the morning sessions of Thursday’s games.
He was one of three defensive linemen that saw action for Grayson on the offensive side of the ball. Nkemdiche, Jack Banda and Zach Barnes make up a special offensive package for the Rams.
“We’d probably call that our heavy package,” Conn said with a laugh.
Banda and Barnes are expected to see action at tight end this fall.
Central’s Westmoreland trying to find go-go guy
Central Gwinnett quarterback Eman Westmoreland had a good relationship with Malachai Jones last year.
Jones, who signed with Appalachian State, set the Gwinnett County single season record for receptions. Now Westmoreland is trying to find another go-to receiver.
“Honestly, I think our team will be more spread out,” Westmoreland said.
Justin Brownlee, Sam Westmoreland, Adam Riley and Kia Brown have emerged as playmakers for Central at receiver.
“We’re still trying to find it,” Wofford said. That’s one of the things we’re trying to figure out, who is going to be go-to guy at receiver.”
Central is also using the passing league tournament to install a new defense under John Pointivent, moving from a 3-4 to 4-3 defense.
“For our guys, this is spring practice for our defense and new receivers coach,” Wofford said. “A lot of teams come to win, but for us we’re working on personnel and new defensive schemes.”
Shiloh’s James picking up new offense
Shiloh quarterback Devante James has had to work fast to learn the Generals’ new offense.
The senior quarterback has had nearly three weeks to learn the system going into Thursday’s passing league tournament.
With new head coach Troy Hobbs, a former assistant at North, Shiloh is going to more a spread-type offense after running a pro-style set last year.
“It’s been going pretty good,” James said. “We’ve had three weeks to learn it and get it down pat.”
The new offense will give the 6-foot-1, 180-pound James an opportunity to throw the ball more.
“It’s my kind of offense,” James said. “I think the team likes it, too.”