N. Cobb advances to national tourney

North Cobb High School quarterback Travis Hawkins thought about a lot of places to visit this summer. Minnesota wasn’t one of them.

“I was thinking more like the beach,” Hawkins said with a laugh.

However, Hawkins isn’t complaining about the northern trip. The rising junior helped North Cobb win the right to participate in the NFL’s 7-on-7 Passing League Tournament from July 9-12 in Minneapolis.

It’s all an-expense-paid trip for 12 North Cobb players and two coaches, who will be representing the NFL’s Falcons. North Cobb will compete against 16 other teams from across the nation for the national championship.

The 7-on-7 is the NFL’s way of giving back to the community and part of its character development program among youth, said Chris Demos, the NFL’s regional director for youth football in the South region. It is also another example of the explosive growth of elite passing leagues in recent years.

Nearly every program in the state spends the early part of the summer in passing leagues, which match offensive and defensive skill players against each other in noncontact drills. The matches usually last 30 minutes, with seven points awarded for a touchdown and three for an interception.

The leagues are considered critical in developing a team’s passing attack. Hawkins, the projected first-year starter, is a prime example.

“He’s a new QB, and we’ve gotten him a lot of reps against live competition,” North Cobb coach Shane Queen said.

“He’s learning how to read the [defensive] secondary, and getting down his timing with the receivers. We’ve played 30-something games this summer, and it has been exciting to see his growth.”

For the NFL 7-on-7, North Cobb finished first out of about 40 teams in two tournament rounds. In the qualifying match, North Cobb rallied for two straight wins against Grady, which had defeated the Warriors in an earlier round.

“Winning anytime in anything as a team is good for our competitiveness,” Queen said. “It develops confidence when you put your kids in pressure situations and they are successful. Hopefully some of this will carry over to Friday nights during the season.”

Hawkins said he is already beginning to feel like a veteran in the team’s spread offense. “We’re all happy about Minnesota. Even though we played against some teams that were probably more athletic, we just played hard and together as a team.”