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Central football to host 7-on-7 showcase Saturday

Photo: Karl L. Moore Central wide receiver Adam Riley (7) tries to jump away from the tackle of Dacula's Zarion Ward (29) during a game last season.

Photo: Karl L. Moore Central wide receiver Adam Riley (7) tries to jump away from the tackle of Dacula's Zarion Ward (29) during a game last season.

PREP FOOTBALL

What: Gwinnett vs. Georgia 7-on-7 Tournament

When: Saturday, 9 a.m.

Where: Central Gwinnett High School

Admission: Free

Participating teams: Central, Norcross, Peachtree Ridge, North Gwinnett, Parkview, Mill Creek, Collins Hill, Shiloh, Gainesville, Eagle's Landing Christian, Alpharetta, Flowery Branch, Kell and Centennial

Some of the state's top football teams will compete this weekend at Central Gwinnett's second straight Gwinnett vs. Georgia 7-on-7 Tournament, including three reigning state champions and highly touted Gainesville quarterback Deshaun Watson.

As for the host team, it has its share of talent, too. But the Black Knights continue to break in a revamped lineup that graduated, among others, Gwinnett's all-time passing leader in Eman Westmoreland and Ohio State signee Trey Johnson, one of the nation's top linebackers.

"It's different this year," Central head coach Todd Wofford said. "Like it was in the spring, replacing Eman and Trey and those guys, it's a process."

A pair of quarterbacks are in a duel to replace the record-breaking Westmoreland, who signed with Paine College. Rising junior Eric Forrest, a 6-foot, 210-pound transfer from Union Grove, had a strong spring at the position, as did rising sophomore Micah Maxey.

The offense also graduated wideout Justin Brownlee, whose 1,337 receiving yards last season also set a Gwinnett record. Running back Johnathan Hawkins transferred to Mill Creek, while a pair of linemen also graduated.

Despite those losses, Central is still loaded at the skill positions. The top returning players include top sophomore prospect Nigel Adams, the team's No. 1 running back, and wide receivers Adam Riley, Zedekiah Brown, Nate Hartford, Chris Shelling and Azaviar Kuffour.

"We'll be deeper at receiver," Wofford said. "We lost (Brownlee), but the rest of the guys have got experience out there."

Central graduated nearly its entire linebacking corps off the defense, most notably Johnson, an Under Armour All-American. Stedman Waiters, a defensive end last season, has stepped in at Johnson's middle linebacker spot.

Veteran defensive backs Brown (an offer from Troy), Charles King and Darius Lattimore (offers from Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Virginia, Georgia Tech and others) also are defensive leaders.

"As a whole unit, we're fast on defense," Wofford said. "We could be faster than we were last season."

The Black Knights will need that speed Saturday, when the second-year passing league showcase begins at the high school. Each team is guaranteed six games -- three games will be going at any given time, beginning at 9 a.m. --and the top four teams from two brackets will reach the semifinals. The championship game is expected in the early evening --last year's finals were at 5:30 p.m.

The field was expected to be an equal split of Gwinnett and out-of-county teams, but Cartersville withdrew and Peachtree Ridge took that spot. There are now eight Gwinnett teams in the 14-team field, with the Lions joined by defending Class AAAAAA state champion Norcross, host Central, North Gwinnett, Parkview, Mill Creek, Collins Hill and Shiloh.

The other teams include two other state champions from last year, Gainesville and Eagle's Landing Christian Academy, along with Alpharetta, Flowery Branch, Kell (the defending champion in the Central tourney) and Centennial.

The tourney is filled with some of the nation's top football recruits, highlighted by Watson, the No. 13 prospect nationally, the No. 1 prospect from Georgia and the No. 1 dual-threat quarterback by ESPN. The Clemson commitment accounted for almost 5,500 yards and 74 touchdowns last season.

His presence, along with many others, will have all the recruiting services in Lawrenceville this weekend.

"I'm excited about it," Wofford said. "It's gotten so big that all the colleges wish they could come out, because there are so many prospects there. Gwinnett's a hotbed for talent, so to get this many players there, the colleges want to come out and see it."

Among Gwinnett teams, the top prospects off teams in the Central showcase include Norcross' Lorenzo Carter, Kevin Mouhon and Myles Autry, North Gwinnett's Dante Sawyer and Peachtree Ridge's Nick Glass.

"Our goal was not just to have a 7-on-7," Wofford said. "We wanted a highly competitive 7-on-7 that has the best players around."