BY BRANDON SPECK
It didn’t take long for Tupelo to become a necessary stop en route to the National Select 7-on-7 Football Championships.
For the second straight summer, some of the region’s top 7-on-7 high schools will be at Tupelo’s Ballard Park, Thursday and Friday for a National Select qualifying tournament. The winner will advance to Hoover, Ala., for next week’s 32-team championship.
“The coaches enjoyed it. Everybody seemed to really like the facility. I did not hear a complaint that we could have done anything different as a host city,” said Seth Gaines, sports development director at the Tupelo CVB.
Gaines said the city went after the inaugural event and now plans to continue to host. It is one of 16 national qualifiers and has nearly doubled, now including teams from four states.
Oxford won the event last year and went on to an undefeated season under high-flying offense led by then-sophomore quarterback Jack Abraham, the Tupelo MVP. The Chargers are not in this year’s Tupelo event, but have already earned an automatic berth to Hoover.
There are eight Mississippi schools: Tupelo, Murrah, Olive Branch, Brandon, Starkville, Grenada, Long Beach and DeSoto Central; Muscle Shoals, Florence and Hillcrest from Alabama; Robinson out of Arkansas and Clarksville, Tenn.
Tupelo and Florence are both playing here for the second straight summer. There is potential for at least two more teams before the event, which is free to the public, begins with Thursday’s 10 a.m. pool play.
“National Select did most of the recruiting,” Gaines said. “We’ve got a lot more out-of-town teams coming in to play. I think what helps a lot is playing on Thursday, Friday, not Friday and Saturday, not taking their weekend away.”
There are notable alumni from the Hoover event, including Julio Jones, Robert Nkemdiche and John Parker Wilson. This week in Tupelo, Gaines estimates nearly 20 players with Division I offers, including Tupelo LB Justin Clifton and teammate, defensive back Jarvis Wilson. Brandon senior quarterback Gardner Minshew has offers from UAB and Akron.
Last year, Florence quarterback Kendrick Doss committed to Ole Miss in the Ballard Park parking lot.
“They’ll be able to look across the line and see kids that will be playing on Saturday next year,” Gaines said. “All of a sudden they’re in a competitive situation with someone they don’t know, not someone they practice with.”
BY BRANDON SPECK