When Connally quarterback Kavian Gaither starts listing the players around him on the Cadets’ 7-on-7 team, a sly smile creeps across his face.
One Oklahoma State commit, Trent Pullen, snaps him the ball and another, Korie Black, is a prime target at receiver. Other faithful pass catchers include Je’Juan Forward, De’Montray Cooks and Marcus Long.
“And then, of course, I have a Washington commit by my side,” Gaither said, the grin taking full effect.
The Cadets’ junior QB is referring to Jay’Veon Sunday, the Connally running back who pledged to Washington in late May. Sunday was the 2018 Super Centex Offensive Player of the Year following a prolific campaign last fall when he rushed for 2,329 yards and 36 touchdowns.
But is Sunday just a role player in the pass-intensive 7-on-7 game? Connally coach Shane Anderson jokingly referred to his star running back as the 7-on-7 team’s mascot. While Anderson helps organize his program’s summer gridiron games, the in-game coaching duties are handled by others.
Gaither seems to know the value of the guy standing beside him in the backfield.
“I’ll throw it out to (Sunday) here and there and let him do his thing,” the Connally quarterback said.
The Cadets are in a jovial mood as the Texas 7-on-7 State Tournament approaches. There will be 128 teams divided into three divisions at the 22nd-annual event beginning Thursday and wrapping up Saturday at Veterans Park in College Station.
The Connally crew has good reason to believe it can compete with anyone. The Cadets participated in the Nike 11-On event at the Star in Frisco last week and performed well against top-notch opponents. Connally defeated teams from Argyle, Fort Worth Brewer and Dallas Sunset and lost one-possession games against Euless Trinity and John Tyler. Although Class 6A powerhouse Allen thumped the Cadets, the Connally players left the Dallas Cowboys’ Frisco football palace knowing more about themselves.
“The No. 1 thing we found out — we’re pretty good and we can compete at a high level,” Anderson said.
Connally won’t be alone in representing Central Texas at the 7-on-7 State tournament. Midway, Belton and Temple will compete in the 64-team Division I field on Friday and Saturday. The Cadets are joined by China Spring, La Vega and McGregor in the 32-team Division II tournament, and Bremond and Hamilton will compete in the 32-team Division III group.
Division II and III will have pool play games on Thursday to determine the single-elimination brackets that will begin Friday morning. Division I will go through pool play on Friday followed by brackets on Saturday.
While Central Texas brings home its share of state football titles each December, the area is devoid of 7-on-7 state tournament championships. La Vega coach Don Hyde, whose Pirates won the 4A Division I state title in 2018, said he likes to see his kids compete at the highest level in 7-on-7, but the championship isn’t necessarily on his wish list.
Likewise, the Connally players passed on the chance to declare their intentions as “state title or bust” this week.
However, the Cadets feel they’ve proved their mettle in local league battles with La Vega, Midway, Mart and University, and in high-profile tournaments over the last two months.
“I think this is where we can actually show people that we’ve got talent all around the field,” said Black, who committed to Oklahoma State as a defensive back but has also been a playmaker at receiver for the Cadets. “We’re athletic, versatile and we can do it all.”
Anderson guided Connally to an 8-4 record and the second round of the playoffs last season. He said that prompted discussions within the Cadets locker room about raising the program’s expectations.
That’s why the Connally players are excited about the chance to play on the state stage in 7-on-7, and Anderson is comfortable making a big deal of the summer touch-football tournament.
“We’re not going to put so much emphasis on it that, if we go down there and don’t play well, that the world is coming to an end,” Anderson said. “But at the same time, if we play like we’re capable of playing, we’ll go down there and we’ll play quite a few games. I want to see how they compete against the best.”