SPRINGDALE -- Absence certainly makes the heart grow fonder, especially when that absence was something that was beyond anyone's control.
A year ago, prep football teams sat by idly as the covid-19 pandemic maintained its stranglehold well into the summer months. It wasn't until late July when state officials finally gave the go-ahead for teams to practice and prepare for the start of the season.
One of the casualties of the covid-19 shutdown was the annual Southwest Elite 7on7 tournament at Shiloh Christian. The event had been a showcase for top 7on7 teams from across the region and featured numerous elite players who went on to play at the Division I level.
After a one-year hiatus, the event is back and a field of 20 teams will compete at both Shiloh Christian and Fayetteville starting today with the tournament championship game scheduled for Thursday evening at Champions Stadium.
"It's great to be in the middle of our summer training and being able to host this event once again after not being able to do it last year," said Shiloh Christian athletic director and head football coach Jeff Conaway. "It's a lot of fun. It's a lot of work and there are still a lot of challenges moving forward. There are still some challenges we're trying to process through and make sure we're doing it the right way. But we're excited. We'll have teams here and can't wait for them to show up and can't wait for that first snap."
Shiloh Christian and Greenwood, two defending state champions in Class 4A and 6A respectively, headline the pool play today. Shiloh Christian is in Pool A, which will be played in Champions Stadium, and Greenwood is in the Pool B group at Harmon Stadium in Fayetteville.
Pool play games will start at 1 p.m. today and continue through to the final pool games at 10:30 p.m. Tournament play will start Thursday at Shiloh Christian with the finals scheduled for 5 p.m. Thursday.
In addition to outstanding teams that will compete for the tournament title, there are a number of high-level athletes who will compete including recent University of Oregon verbal commit Isaiah Sategna of Fayetteville, regarded by some as the state's top prospect in the 2022 class. Chas Nimrod, a star wide receiver at Bentonville who holds multiple Division I offers, will be another elite-level player on the field for the event.
Arkansas verbal commit Kaden Henley, who is among the top linebackers in the state, will be on the field for Shiloh Christian, along with rising standout junior quarterback Eli Wisdom, who led the Saints to the 4A state title as a sophomore and holds an offer from the University of Central Florida.
"It's just always fun to be around these coaches and these athletes that help make our program just as solid as it can be in the fall," said Conaway. "This is a process and that's why I like the position our tournament is in in the summer. We've had June to go to team camps and we've had spring football. Most of our terminology and scheme have been taught, but what I like about this 7on7 is now you've got to go and not only know what your assignment is and go execute, but you've got to go and do that against some of the top competition in the region.
"I use this terminology a lot, but the iron sharpens iron is something I believe in. This really does take our athletes and our team to a whole different level. I don't know how some teams don't do some of this stuff because it's priceless. These are reps that you can't get anywhere else."
Southwest Elite 7on7
At Shiloh Christian
Heritage Hall (Okla.)
Little Rock Christian
Victory Christian (Okla.)