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May 15, 2021

Gallagher column: Win or not, 7-on-7s good for West

MOUNT ULLA — Think about this for a minute. You get on a bus at 5:20 a.m., ride seven hours, get off the bus and almost immediately play 7-on-7.
That was West Rowan’s schedule last month when the Falcons ventured down to Hoover, Ala., for the UnderArmour national 7-on-7 event. The Falcons were one of the elite 32 teams from across the nation invited.
West lost that first game, and in fact, lost all eight it played.
Reason to panic for the team holding the nation’s longest winning streak?
Not quite.
First of all, 7-on-7 isn’t real football. As USA Today wrote recently, there’s “no blocking, no tackling, no rushing, no kickoffs, no field goals, no punting, no helmets and no pads.”
West coach Scott Young calls it “fake football.” But what it does is help quarterbacks and receivers. And right now, that’s what Young needs more than anything. West must replace quarterback B.J. Sherrill, the architect of 46 straight victories.
“We go to a lot of 7-on-7s,” Young said, also mentioning the Carolina Panthers’ event.
This year, more than ever, West needed the 7-on-7 competition for its signal-callers. Young keeps saying Connor Edwards, Sherrill’s backup last year, and newcomer Zay Laster are having a friendly battle for the starting spot, but no one has emerged as the clear leader.
Of the left-handed Laster, Young said, “He gives us a threat with his legs at quarterback that we’ve never had here. He can run the football. I’m pleased with him.
“I’m pleased with Connor Edwards, too. We understand there can’t be but one quarterback. Whichever one wins that job, we owe it to the other to play.”

Win or not, the Hoover experience was a once-in-a-lifetime thrill for 29 of the Falcons. When you win as many consecutive state titles as West (three) you get invitations like this.
“It was awesome,” Young beamed. “It’s something the guys will remember forever.”
Ten minutes after West arrived in Alabama, Young was at a meeting finding out who the Falcons played. About an hour later, they were on the field.
It wasn’t all fond memories. West lost two of its receivers to injury.
High-jumping Quentin Phifer went for a pass in the end zone and landed with a thud. He tore the MCL and ACL in his knee and surgery will cause the senior to miss the season. Brandon Ijames, a speedy junior, damaged his MCL and is out for two to three weeks.
“Quentin said he heard it pop,” Young said. “It was a great effort. “Playing on turf, his leg just got underneath him. We knew it was bad.”

Young wanted to win in Hoover, but he looked at the big picture. It will help his quarterbacks.
Everyone knows Edwards, the big-play man of last year. He replaced Sherrill in the second half of the state title game over Eastern Alamance and guided West to a 34-7 win. In basketball, he hit the game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer against Northwest Cabarrus that lifted Mike Gurley’s basketball team into the Western Regionals.
But who is this Laster guy?
He transferred from powerful Mallard Creek last year. His father is an ROTC instructor at West.
Young chuckled a bit about coaching a lefty.
“I’ve never had a left-handed quarterback,” Young mused. “Now, I have two.”
Alexis Archie, a freshman is also left-handed.
“I can’t coach it well,” Young smiled. “Everything’s got to be backwards.”
When players win as much as the Falcons, two seniors can battle and still keep a good attitude.
“What’s very unique about Zay and Connor is, I like how they compete against each other but work with each other,” Young said. “I like our situation. It has not been an ugly thing.”
There’s only three days before West opens at Mooresville. And Young said the only thing he could regarding his two senior QBs.
“May the best man win.”

Contact Ronnie Gallagher at 704-797-4287 or rgallagher@salisburypost.com.

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