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Russellville set to host annual 7-on-7 camp, Lineman Challenge

Thirteen schools from five different classifications will descend on the campus of Russellville High School this Friday for the annual Northwest Alabama 7-on-7 and Lineman Challenge.

Pool play for the 7-on-7 competition will begin at 8:30 a.m. on Friday morning. Russellville (Class 5A) will be joined by Sheffield (2A), Central-Florence (4A), W.S. Neal (4A), Crossville (5A) and West Morgan (3A) in Pool A, while Colbert County (3A), Jacksonville (4A), Haleyville (4A), Deshler (4A), West Point (5A), James Clemens (7A) and Montevallo (3A) comprise Pool B.

“Most of these teams are returners, guys who keep coming back,” said Mark Heaton, now in his fourth year as Russellville’s head coach. “When we first started doing this thing, there were some bigger schools in 6A and 7A that went. A lot of those guys are competing in other tournaments now. Just for example, some of them are in the Select 7-on-7, and some of them qualified for other bigger tournaments like the ALFCA tournaments. With a lot of the bigger schools, it’s harder to get them in here.

“But I like the group we have. It’s a mixture of anywhere from 3A to 4A and 5A, mostly, and it’s gonna be a very competitive bracket. It helps, too, that a lot of schools from around here are involved.”

Heaton estimated that roughly 600 athletes and 150 coaches, officials and volunteers will take part in Friday’s event.

“We’re gonna have somewhere between seven and eight hundred people on campus,” he said. “We’re looking forward to it.”

Russellville will open 7-on-7 pool play at 8:30 a.m. against West Morgan. The Golden Tigers are scheduled to face Crossville at 8:55, W.S. Neal at 9:45, Sheffield at 10:10 and Central-Florence at 11:00. Tournament play will begin in the afternoon.

Late last month, Russellville competed in two other 7-on-7 tournaments at Birmingham Southern College (where the Golden Tigers went 3-3 in six games on June 27) and Hoover (where they finished 4-2-1 on June 29).

“We lost in the quarterfinals of that [Hoover] tournament by three points,” Heaton said, “so we were right there, just one possession away from being in the semifinals of that event. All in all, it was a very successful trip. Everything went great.

“We went to the one at Birmingham Southern, and we rotated quarterbacks at that one with Devin [Buckhalter] and Luke [Barnwell]. We went 2-2 in pool play and 1-1 in bracket play. There’s only three rounds in bracket play, so we essentially got put out in the semifinal game. We were kind of feeling our way through that one, but we improved. Everybody got better, no doubt about it.”

On the Wednesday in between those two camps, the Golden Tigers traveled to Montevallo High School for an organized team activity (OTA).

“We had about a two-hour practice that morning, basically just a competition with Montevallo at their place,” Heaton said. “It gave us a chance to compete against another team and do some one-on-one drills, some seven-on-seven stuff and some eleven-on-eleven stuff. That was huge. We found out a lot about ourselves.

“It gave us a great idea moving forward in July of who we can count on to give us serious minutes in a game on Friday nights. It gave us a look at what our personnel packages will be going into fall practice. We’ve got a lot of those opportunities coming up this month, too, that will allow the kids to step up and show us what they’re capable of.”

Russellville is scheduled to host Haleyville for an OTA on Monday evening, and the Golden Tigers will travel to Haleyville for another OTA on July 24. Russellville and W.S. Neal will take part in an OTA this Thursday evening at 6 p.m. at Golden Tiger Stadium, and the 7-on-7 camp and Lineman Challenge will begin the following morning.

Ten schools (Russellville, Haleyville, Sheffield, Colbert County, Montevallo, Jacksonville, Deshler, West Point, W.S. Neal and West Morgan) will take part in the Lineman Challenge, which includes events like a pass-rush competition, a tug-of-war, a sled relay, an obstacle course and a bench-press competition.

The Russellville Middle School football team will host a 7-on-7 camp with Haleyville and Deshler on Thursday morning starting at 9 a.m.

“We’ve had a really good summer,” long-time RMS coach Larry Gilmer said on Monday. “We’ve got a good group of kids, and they’ve been working hard. We’ve got about sixty-five kids all told in the seventh and eighth grade. The group we’ve got coming into the eighth grade this time has really improved. They got better toward the end of last year, and they’ve continued to work hard and improve this summer.

“Being able to play a few games on their own as seventh-graders last year really helped them. They were much improved by the end of the season.”

Gilmer’s eighth-grade team last season lost just one game, by two points to Lawrence County (a team the Golden Tigers would later beat 30-8 in Moulton). Several players from that team practiced with the varsity for the last few weeks of the 2016 season and are now poised to make an impact this season as freshmen on the varsity level.

“I’ve had some teams that didn’t lose a game as eighth-graders and one group that didn’t lose a game and didn’t get scored on, but last year’s team was one of the best I’ve ever had,” said Gilmer, who has coached football at RMS for more than two decades. “They had size, they had speed, they were coachable—it was a really good group. And it wasn’t just a few of them. We had about twenty-five kids who could really play.”

The group of potential impact freshmen includes quarterback Luke Barnwell, lineman Edgar Amaya, receivers Rowe Gallagher, Cole Barnett, Caden Watts and Ashaad Williams, and safety/running back Grayson Eady.

“I wouldn’t be surprised to see six or eight of those guys starting as freshmen,” Gilmer said. “Or if not starting, definitely being in the rotation and playing big roles. I don’t expect they’ll be standing on the sidelines.”

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