At Georgia Tech 7-on-7 tournament, opportunities abound for prospects

Action from Georgia Tech's 7-on-7 tournament June 16, 2021. On the right, Alpharetta High played Grayson High. On the left, Buford High faced Kennesaw Mountain High. (AJC photo by Ken Sugiura)
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Action from Georgia Tech's 7-on-7 tournament June 16, 2021. On the right, Alpharetta High played Grayson High. On the left, Buford High faced Kennesaw Mountain High. (AJC photo by Ken Sugiura)

Matteo Carriere sped by safeties, worked free from cornerbacks and latched onto passes zipped to him by his quarterback, Ben Guthrie. Carriere, a wide receiver from Alpharetta High and a rising senior, had been waiting for days like these, played under a warm June sun and against some of the best prep talent in Georgia.

Carriere was among the standouts at a 7-on-7 tournament at Georgia Tech on Wednesday, as some of the top high-school teams in metro Atlanta competed under the eye of Tech coaches and staff, including coach Geoff Collins. For Carriere and high-school players chasing the college-football dream, opportunities such as Wednesday’s are precious, especially so this year with the re-opening of in-person recruiting at the start of June.

“I know (the evaluation) is happening, but I’m not under-pressure worried about it,” Carriere said. “I just want to go do my thing, go do what I do.”

Wednesday’s event was one of several that Tech has held on campus this month in its rush to catch up in its evaluating and relationship building that were slowed by the NCAA’s prohibition on in-person recruiting that began in March 2020 because of COVID-19. With the NCAA repealing the ban and once again allowing coaches to meet with prospects, parents and high-school coaches in-person starting June 1, hundreds of high-school prospects have descended upon Tech.

“I’m just thankful to be out here,” Carriere said.

Beyond official visits for their most prized rising-senior recruits, Tech coaches and staff have staged two days of 7-on-7 tournaments – the format is passing only, non-contact and on a 40-yard field – and have scheduled four single-day prospect camps, as well as special camps for quarterbacks and specialists. That’s in addition to a daily stream of high-schoolers coming in for unofficial visits to tour facilities and meet with coaches. This year, coaches have also been able to conduct one-on-one evaluations with prospects, which they haven’t been able to do previously.

“(The 7-on-7 event) is a good way for (coaches) to just be able to put eyes on some kids they haven’t seen in a couple years,” said Grayson assistant coach Fred Mitchell, who serves as the team’s college recruiting coordinator.

A prospect’s game footage remains critical in evaluation, but college coaches put value on bringing athletes to campus for camps and 7-on-7 events, as they can see them in person and make firsthand evaluations of their size, speed, agility and strength. The teams invited to play Wednesday mornings – there was an afternoon tournament, too – were hardly a random collection. Nine of the 12 were in the state playoffs last year, including state powerhouses Buford, Grayson, North Gwinnett and Greater Atlanta Christian. Tech hosted another 7-on-7 tournament Monday and has four one-day prospect camps and special camps for quarterbacks and specialists.

One of Mitchell’s players, rising-freshman cornerback Jaylen Bell, tweeted that he had received a scholarship offer from Tech coaches after his performance.

“This is a good relationship,” Mitchell said. “We’ve kind of got a little pipeline going down here at Georgia Tech.”

Carriere may have been the fastest receiver at the event. He recently was timed for the 40-yard dash in 4.4 seconds and has run the 100-meter dash in 10.7 seconds. He ran the anchor leg of Alpharetta’s Class 7A state champion 4x400 relay.

“That’s when he really started to get his name out there,” said Carriere’s father, Jermaine, speaking of the 4.4 time run at a camp at Mercer.

To this point, Carriere has one scholarship offer, from Army, but interest appears to be growing. His performance Wednesday – which included a catch of a game-winning two-point conversion – evidently piqued the attention of Collins, who complimented him on his play and told him that he was glad to have him on campus, Carriere said.

“Hopefully, Georgia Tech is close (with a scholarship offer),” Jermaine Carriere said. “It’s the home school. I told coach Collins we like it here. It’s close to home.”

Carriere’s growing profile speaks to the awareness that a strong camp or 7-on-7 performance can create, and what both coaches and prospects had missed over the last year. For Carriere, it was even more so. He broke his ankle in the spring of his freshman year, taking him out of the camp circuit for that summer. Last year, COVID-19 kept everyone home. Finally, in the summer before his senior year, he’s got the chance to make the rounds. The Tech event Wednesday was one of five he had attended in June at schools across the Southeast, with another trip to Maryland (where his brother Carlos is a wide receiver) to go.

“This is my first camp season, so I’m going all out,” he said.

Tech coaches were out in full force, alternating between keenly watching the games staged on the practice fields and visiting with high-school coaches and prospects.

“Literally, I think I talked to seven of their main (coaches), so it just shows you how out and about they were (Wednesday),” Greater Atlanta Christian coach Tim Hardy said.

His son Will, a rising-senior wide receiver/safety who committed to Virginia, has been recruited by Tech assistant coaches Andrew Thacker and Nathan Burton, the latter of whom is a GAC grad. But Wednesday was the first time they met face to face.

“It’s a cool atmosphere,” Will said of playing on Tech’s fields. “It’s fun to make plays, and it’s fun to get a little attention, too.”

The actual matter of playing and improving is, of course, another benefit. Each team played four games and then were seeded into a single-elimination tournament.

“Things like this, when you come down here, get a lot of work in a short period of time against great people at a Division I, Power 5 facility, it’s pretty cool,” Tim Hardy said.

Being able to play in Bobby Dodd Stadium, a privilege accorded the four semifinalists, was a memorable perk, too.

“It was great being out here,” Alpharetta linebacker Caleb Moran said. “Especially in the final four and then getting to be in the big stadium. It’s a fun experience, for sure.”

As for the actual play, Grayson overcame a slow start in its scheduled games and rolled to the championship, over Kennesaw Mountain High.

“It did get a little hot (on the stadium turf), to be honest, but it was good,” Grayson safety A.J. Lopez said. “I like playing in the stadiums. This is a good experience.”

The Grayson High football team poses with Georgia Tech coach Geoff Collins after winning a 7-on-7 tournament held on campus June 16, 2021. (AJC photo by Ken Sugiura)
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The Grayson High football team poses with Georgia Tech coach Geoff Collins after winning a 7-on-7 tournament held on campus June 16, 2021. (AJC photo by Ken Sugiura)