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North looks to build depth at passing tourney

Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan North Gwinnett wide receiver Nate Brown (6) leaps past Mill Creek defensive lineman Kelsey Griffin (94) during the 2012 high school football season.

Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan North Gwinnett wide receiver Nate Brown (6) leaps past Mill Creek defensive lineman Kelsey Griffin (94) during the 2012 high school football season.

Bob Sphire knows he has some holes on his football team.

The veteran coach is hoping after this week's North Gwinnett 7on7 regional qualifier he'll have a better idea who will be playing for him.

"It's part of the process of getting ready for the football season," the North head coach said. "It's not about wins and losses right now as it is developing depth and working schemes."

The Bulldogs will get plenty of chances to develop young players at this week's two-day tournament at Gary Pirkle Park in Sugar Hill.

The regional qualifier features 18 teams participating in pool play on Thursday and a double elimination tournament on Friday. There is a $5 fee for spectators.

"It's run similar to years past," tournament director Ken Manning said. "The winner gets invited to the national championship tournament in Hoover in July."

The top two teams from the tournament will advance to the National Select 7on7 championship on July 24-26.

Defending champion Byrnes (S.C.) will not be back to defend its title as the Rebels are participating in the Auburn passing tourney this weekend.

The tournament will feature 18 teams from 15 schools. Grayson, North Gwinnett and Lassiter each have two teams in the tourney.

Archer, Central Gwinnett, Greater Atlanta Christian, Grayson, North Gwinnett and Shiloh are among the Gwinnett teams in the tournament. It's the first time Archer and GAC have participated in the tourney. Grayson won the tournament in 2011.

"You've got some quality teams from Gwinnett represented," Sphire said.

Other Georgia teams include Alpharetta, Centennial, Cherokee, Jefferson County, Jonesboro, Lassiter and Gainesville.

Lassiter is one of the state's top passing teams and was ranked No. 1 in the state after the regular season. Former Wesleyan quarterback Will Anderson is now at Lassiter. Gainesville is the defending Class AAAAA state champion, The Red Devils feature the state's No. 1 ranked player in quarterback Deshaun Watson, a Clemson commitment.

"Any teams that have a great passing game year in and year out are going to be favorites," Manning said.

The tourney will also feature two out-of-state teams in Olive Branch (Miss.) and Spartanburg (S.C.).

Olive Branch has reached the state playoffs nine straight seasons and went 11-2 last year. Spartanburg is coached by former Byrnes head coach Chris Miller and reached the playoffs last year.

"Olive Branch is always a power," Sphire said. "It's a good field."

In addition to Watson, there will be plenty of the state's top talent on the field.

Central cornerback Darious Latimore and receiver/safety Zedekiah Brown, Grayson linebacker Daniel Fennell, North Gwinnett running back C.J. Leggett and receivers Nate Brown and Caleb Scott, Shiloh receiver Cameron Stewart and Lassiter cornerback Chris Murphy are all highly recruited players and are expected to be at the tourney.

This is the second week North has participated in a 7on7 tournament. The Bulldogs lost to Norcross in the semifinals of last week's Gwinnett vs. Georgia 7-on-7 tournament at Central Gwinnett. Norcross went on to win the tournament over Kell.

FOOTBALL

What: North Gwinnett 7on7 regional qualifier

When: Thursday-Friday

Where: Gary Pirkle Park, Sugar Hill

Cost: $5

Online: www.select7on7.com/

Participating Teams:

Alpharetta

Archer

Centennial

Central Gwinnett

Cherokee

GAC

Gainesville

Grayson A

Grayson B

Jefferson Co.

Jonesboro

Lassiter A

Lassiter B

North Gwinnett A

North Gwinnett B

Olive Branch, Miss.

Shiloh

Spartanburg, S.C.