SOUTH WEYMOUTH — When Mario Hines started the Legacy New England Football 7-on-7 team, that's just what it was: A single, solitary squad.
A year later, there were six teams. On Saturday, 10 teams, made up of roughly 170 athletes from a tryout pool of about 200, competed in games that started at 1:30 p.m., with the final batch finishing up five hours later.
Broken up by color that is sometimes defined by region (Team Orange, for instance, is largely made up of players from the Merrimack Valley and New Hampshire), the teams are "drafted" weeks in advance, then compete against each other in round-robin divisions. By the end of the "season," the winner will compete nationally.
One would think this would be too much to fit under one umbrella, but the event at the Union Sports Complex ran smoothly.
Referees are on hand to enforce the unique rules. Unlike traditional 7-on-7 leagues, there are a limited number of quarterback run plays allowed, along with the occasional blitz, while a DJ backbeats everything with a hip-hop-heavy soundtrack.
Parents, friends, and other interested parties bring beach chairs to watch the goings on. One female supporter wore a purple outfit to back a player on Team Purple.
It was, at times, a fun, festive atmosphere, and in some ways totally foreign to this part of the country.
Hines knows the line of thinking that argues against competitive 7-on-7 leagues.
"I know it's not (exactly) football," Hines said while helping a reporter gather scores from the day. "But it's reps."
And that is where Hines, a Detroit native who played collegiately at Robert Morris and overseas for the Bonn Gamecocks in Germany, understands the value in ventures like his and others like it, especially here.
Hines and Co. also counsel players on other parts of the recruiting process, and do their best to guide them through the many gray areas, but the 7-on-7 component is a key element.
Why? Well, Massachusetts has winter months that aren't exactly conducive to getting that type of activity together in an organized environment. You get your work in when you can. Also, without spring football here, college coaches usually only see the players doing football-related activity at one-day camps, which — for the skill players, at least — look a lot like what you see at these 7-on-7 tournaments.
One onlooker Saturday reiterated that repetitions point specifically in reference to his college playing days. He said that when he was at the Division 1 program attended, his teammates from Florida mentioned that they never lifted in high school, just worked on technique and fundamentals over and over.
"They said they'd lift when they got to college," he said.
Now, this is not to say players should just skip weight training to focus on skill development. However, that other aspect of it can't be ignored. The increased football-specific reps can hone the finer points of individual improvement in ways that can be tough to achieve otherwise.
Of course, not all high school coaches are swayed by the argument that those goals are achieved through a league like Legacy's. There are some who feel that winter is either for lifting, or just playing another sport, and that 7-on-7 is either a waste of time or money.
According to assistant director Ricky Igbani, the skepticism from high school coaches has waned a little.
"Some of them have started to see kids who were not necessarily stars come through our program and show improvement into the next season," Igbani, a Randolph native, said. "They see that as a positive."
Also, it's not always a choice between student-athletes playing a sport, lifting with the high school team, or participating with Legacy or another 7-on-7-type program. Many do a little bit of everything. One quarterback missed Saturday's Legacy event because he had a basketball game with his high school. There were others who attended who also run track during the winter.
In other words, some there used Legacy as their replacement for a winter sport, but not all. From the players we spoke to, the overwhelming majority just liked the chance to have a football-oriented activity to do in the winter.
To not have that, they said, would make them feel like they're missing out on an opportunity to sharpen their skills against high-level competition.
"I wish I had this when I was in high school," Igbani said. "To go up against kids from Xaverian, Everett? That would have been great."