The idea that Kansas high school football players could be good at pass-only 7 on 7 — in a wind-swept state known for running the ball — was lost on most of the teams gathered for the Southwest Elite 7 on 7 last weekend in Springdale, Ark.
That Derby managed to flip the script completely is something even coach Brandon Clark found some pride — and humor — in this week.
“I think we passed the ball, on average, maybe 12 times per game last season,” Clark said, laughing. “To me, I guess, we’re one of the lower-passing teams in the state, so to do so well in 7 on 7 says more about the kids we have who want to win and who really hate to lose.”
Derby’s first foray onto the national 7-on-7 scene took a lot of teams by surprise at Springdale, where they finished second to a team from Olive Branch, Miss.
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“Olive Branch was just amazing, they looked like a college team,” Clark said. “And our kids were still disappointed that we lost to them, they were highly upset ... like they got their candy stolen from them. They were sure they were going to win.”
On the way to second place, Derby scored wins over players from HooverAla.), the defending Class 6A champion in Alabama, and Oklahoma power Broken Arrow. Clark was able to call the plays and formations for Derby throughout.
The performance scored Derby an invitation to the National Elite 7 on 7 next week in Hoover because Olive Branch had already qualified thanks to its dominance in several other 7-on-7 regionals.
“We beat a bunch of schools that were bigger than us, or had more of a reputation than us,” Clark said. “We host our own, free, 7-on-7 tournament, but this was our first time going to any sort of regional competition.”
But Kansas State High School Activities Association rules say coaches can’t be involved in football-related activities from Saturday to the start of training camp in mid-August, so Clark wouldn’t have been able to go with Derby to the national competition. Derby declined the invitation.
Last football season, Derby lost to Hutchinson 29-28 in the Class 6A semifinals.
“Our guys wanted to go and they wanted to compete, but we all understand the rules and why they’re in place,” Clark said. “We could’ve gone anywhere we wanted with the kids this summer for camps and stuff like (7 on 7). Coaches can get carried away and will try to basically have practices right up until camps start, so that’s why those rules are there. We totally understand. We can still lift together and get work in that way.
“I’m really proud of how our guys approached (7 on 7) and how they were focused on winning every time we got out there. That bodes well..”