SPRINGDALE -- The Southwest Elite 7-on-7 Tournament was the summer's final audition for a lot of players heading into pre-season practices and drills.
The Tournament, hosted by Shiloh Christian with games also held at Fayetteville High, covered two days and gave coaches plenty of repetitions under their watchful eye against live competition.
"The timing of this tournament is good because you've got to make your decisions," Tournament director and Shiloh Christian coach Jeff Conaway said. "This gives you one last opportunity to evaluate your players. There's no better way to do that than to play and get a lot of reps, and we're definitely getting a lot of reps. There's a lot of evaluating going on and trying to figure who can do what and how efficient they can be."
Several teams especially used the two-day tournament to evaluate quarterbacks that are vying for starting positions.
As the tournament concluded on Thursday, the Alma Airedales were still looking at three possibilities at the position.
Hunter McAlister is the 6-7 senior who started the final four games of the 2020 season, including the first-round playoff loss at Texarkana. Joe Trusty is a junior and a move-in from Greenwood, who shared the quarterback position in junior high and was moved to defense last year. Jackson Daily is a promising sophomore and a third-generation Airedale.
"At this point, it's going to go a little further," Alma head coach Rusty Bush said. "They're doing some good things. Nobody has separated themselves from each other. We're not getting consistent play out of any of them. Nobody is pulling away to win the job."
Daily played well on Wednesday in pool play and then McAlister and Trusty alternated games on Thursday in bracket play.
The Southwest Elite was the third 7-on-7 tournament of the summer for the Airedales after holding their own tournament and going to Branson in June.
"We had been going series by series but starting Wednesday we started giving them games so they could build some confidence," Bush said. "We said 'this is your game from start to end.' We tried to work it that way."
The Van Buren Pointers began the season with competition as well with senior Connor Brady and sophomore Bryce Perkins, a move-in from Shiloh Christian, but Perkins received the reps in the Southwest Elite.
"Perkins will be our starter going into the season," Van Buren head coach Crosby Tuck said. "As long as he plays the way we need him to he will be the guy."
A big factor is that Brady is such a versatile athlete that Perkins being elevated to quarterback allows Brady to play both receiver and safety.
"Absolutely, that was part of it," Tuck said. "He's a very good receiver and he's able to play safety now that he's not playing quarterback. We've been using Connor to play both sides of the ball. He's probably been in on more plays than anybody on our team the last two days. Connor is a key part of what we're doing."
The Ozark Hillbillies also are using the summer passing league circuit to find a quarterback with senior Ryker Martin and junior Landon Wright sharing time over the past two days.
"Landon had a great tournament, and we stayed with him most of the day," Ozark head coach Jeremie Burns said. "In spring ball and through June, Ryker was probably leading. We're still trying to work that out."
Similar to Van Buren's situation, Martin is valuable to Ozark as a two-way player especially at linebacker.
"They both have good things they can do," Burns said.
Three Oklahoma schools participated in the Southwest Elite this year, and neither Stillwater nor Victory Christian of Tulsa has any questions about who they will use at quarterback.
Stillwater will hand the controls over to Gage Gundy, a junior and the youngest of three sons of Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy.
"I'm real pleased with the way Gage is coming along and his progression as a quarterback," Stillwater head coach Tucker Barnard said. "He kind of came up through the system in junior high and youth football as a tailback, a linebacker and a quarterback. He's been a do-everything kid. Focusing on quarterback and that position is kind of new to him."
Victory Christian played in the tournament for the first time and featured one of the top quarterbacks in the field in Triton Chandler.
The senior is a true dual threat at the position after throwing for 2,397 and 16 touchdowns, and rushing for 1,162 and 21 scores in guiding the Conquerors to two playoff victories.
Last season marked the second season in which Chandler eclipsed the 2,000-yard passing mark.
This year's tournament was scaled down from past seasons due to a number of reasons.
"It was a combination of things," Conaway said. "The Oklahoma dead period fell at a very difficult time, and that's why we're on a Wednesday-Thursday schedule instead of a Friday-Saturday schedule. We missed out on a lot of the Oklahoma schools, which is unfortunate. The schools that did show up made a very good showing. They are a lot of really good athletes, teams and programs here."
This year's tournament featured 20 teams divided into two 10-team pools.
Last year's tournament was canceled by the covid-19 pandemic but the 2019 tournament featured 27 teams from six states, including 12 schools from Oklahoma and from as far away as Indiana.
This year, there were four out-of-state teams with Tulsa's Victory Christian, Oklahoma City's Heritage Hall and Stillwater from Oklahoma and Glendale from Missouri.
"The competition is really, really good," Conaway said. "Everybody is getting sharper, which is what we want."
With the tournament divided into 10-team divisions, each team had nine games on Wednesday before double-elimination bracket play on Thursday for at least two more games.
Another change was starting the tournament on Wednesday at 1 p.m. and playing a lot of the games under the lights in cooler conditions to make it more comfortable for fans.