By Zach Alvira
The end of the school year signals the start of summer football training for high schools all across Arizona, as many begin workout programs and field work throughout the week.
While some teams take the weekends off, others enter 7-on-7 passing tournaments to hone their skills against local competition before the pads come on. The Nike GBAC 7-on-7 is the first big passing tournament of the summer, bringing together several programs from every division to compete.
“This is one of the best tournaments in the state and even this side of the Mississippi (river),” said Chad DeGrenier, Mesa High School’s football coach. “All of the coaches that come here, it’s the best of the best. Everyone enjoys it.”
DeGrenier, who was hired at Mesa in December, is the founder of Gotta Believe Athletic Club, a non-profit organization based in Scottsdale that focuses on training, conditioning and motivation for young athletes.
Through Gotta Believe, DeGrenier and Dan DeChesaro have put on the Nike GBAC 7-on-7 tournament the past seven years. It has become a mainstay for college coaches who want to see some of the top talent in the state in action.
A former quarterback for the Arizona Rattlers from 1998-2002, DeGrenier has paid close attention to the rise in division I caliber quarterbacks in the state the past few seasons. Several quarterbacks with multiple division I offers took part in the tournament on Saturday, including Chaparral’s Jack Miller, an Ohio State commit, Pinnacle’s JD Johnson, a Michigan commit, and Gilbert’s Will Plummer, an Arizona commit.
“(Will) is doing good,” said Derek Zellner, Gilbert High’s coach. “I’m pleased with how we did. Sometimes you run into teams that have more guys than you do and that’s just the case.”
Plummer led Gilbert into the gold bracket of the tournament, designated for teams that won their four-team pool. The Tigers went on to beat Seton Catholic before running into Miller and Chaparral high schools.
The Firebirds depth took over in the match up, but it presented Zellner an opportunity to see where his team is at this point in the summer, another added bonus for several teams in the tournament.
“There’s some teams here that are at the top and others who are maybe in that second tier like us,” DeGrenier said of his Mesa team. “This tournament just provides an opportunity to really see how you stack up against tough competition and see what you need to work on.”
Among the top teams competing in the tournament was three-time defending 6A state champion Chandler. Chandler has plenty of returning talent to make another run at the title, but it was also the first time against other competition for players taking over starting roles on both sides of the ball.
“You come here to improve,” Garretson said. “Having the ability to come play against teams like Pinnacle, Hamilton and Chaparral, it helps us learn. Chad puts on a great tournament. I think it’s the best in Arizona.”
Every team brought a high level of intensity that could be seen and heard across the entire Scottsdale complex. While winning was the goal for each team, even those who fell short walked away having improved in some capacity.
“It’s about the kids and providing a great tournament,” DeGrenier said. “We want the teams to be able to come in and get their work in a safe environment on quality fields.”