WAXAHACHIE — Just when Waxahachie High School its 7-on-7 summer football season ended with a second place finish in the July 1 adidas State Championship — it wasn't.
Lewisville and the TAG Playmakers Tournament were calling.
"Coach (Jon) Kitna got a phone call from a guy named Jay Smith who used to coach at Lancaster, but now is over the 7-on-7 national teams," said Kevin Pointer, the WHS head 7-on-7 coach, about how the news filtered down to the team from the school's athletic coordinator. "We thought our summer season was over until he reached out and said he wanted our team to participate in the national tournament."
Redemption, Pointer said, may be possible for the boys that stormed through Division I pool play on day one. They used a combination of lightning-quick strikes from Bryse Salik and mile-wide catch radius of Jeff Alexander, Kevin Green, Austin Mick and Tevin Wofford and opportunistic defense to beat Welasco, home team College Station and Houston Cy-Fair by a 28-point average margin.
Twenty-four hours later, they beat Arlington Lamar, Bush, Cedar Park, and Clear Brook High Schools — only to fall to eventual champion Lake Travis High School by one point after a failed two-point conversion ended the game 34-33. They will have a chance to climb the ranks of some of the best again Saturday at Lewisville High School.
"When I sent the text out about this, everybody was ready to go. I think this is redemption for the guys or what happened at state," Pointer said. "It gives them another opportunity to show what they can do at another national level. It's not as big as a platform as the adidas State Tournament in College Station, But it gives them a chance to be in one of the best teams in three states."
Now they will pit their talents — and a ball-hawking defense that created a state championship-high 24 turnovers — in not only the first national tournament in school history and not only against the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex's best, but also a handful of teams from Oklahoma and two from Louisville, Kentucky.
There is an extra wrinkle, however, that will test Salik's ability to progress through his reads quickly and still deliver the type of accuracy that helped the Indians rise to and through the championship bracket. According to Pointer, this tournament features and eighth player on defense on third and fourth down.
That player is a free rusher that can be placed anywhere on the field. That may play as a Waxahachie advantage — especially if Salik can find the soft spots in the added defensive armor.
"It can change everything," he said. "Football is a game of intelligence, strategy and confidence. You have to be intelligent to understand the ins and outs of the game on a play-to-play basis and understand how to use strategy to your advantage. When the defense has to worry about covering the whole field [by adding an extra rusher] it takes away confidence from them and gives it to us. Little things like that are what will give us the edge and help us win ball games."
Pointer said Salik, the boy that deftly pinpointed receiving target after receiving target during the summer season, is not the one that stood before him 12 months earlier. The one that will take the field Saturday in Lewisville, he said, is leaps and bounds ahead of his former self. He noted his increased muscular frame, mental approach to the position and poise in the pocket as keys to how he will handle the added caveat.
Salik went 151 for 200 (75 percent) and threw 30 touchdown passes to Alexander, Green, Mick, Wofford and Jarreth Sterns, as well as strikes to a host of other Indian receivers during the championship round a month ago.
He completed 86 of his first 111 passes (77.5 percent). Nineteen were TD throws. His understudy Mason Brewer went 12 of 17 (70 percent) with two touchdowns and an interception during the same span.
Waxahachie's play callers will try to replicate their performances in Max Goldsmith Stadium.
"It means we're going to have to handle the rush," Pointer said. "That's a dynamic we have to look at and mimic in practice. There's no indication where that guy's going to line up. It could be on the outside or in the middle. He could come from anywhere. If we can recognize who he is and where he's at, we'll make the right play call. Every inch counts. That means footwork. That means cuts on routes and DB's looking at receivers. Bryse is dialed in — as the kids say. He wasn't like this during 7-on-7 last year. It's not only he and Mason, either.
"It's the brotherhood. It's Jarreth and Josh (Sterns), Caleb High, Nick Henderson, Demani Richardson and our defense. I think all that we bring to the table is going to give us a chance to eat when we suit up on Saturday."
Marcus S. Marion, @MarcusMarionWNI