Spain Park shows positives at Hoover Elite 7-on-7

By SETH HAGAN | For the Reporter

HOOVER – The Spain Park football team’s 2017 campaign ended with a first-round playoff exit and a 6-5 record, but just six months removed from that loss and six weeks before a new campaign begins, the Jaguars more than held their own against top flight competition at Hoover High School’s annual 7-on-7 tournament July 12-14.

The spectacle featured some premier football programs in the southeast from states such as Georgia, Alabama and Louisiana with Spain Park garnering wins over teams from each state.

All-in-all, the Jags won their first seven games of the tournament and served notice that they’re a team to be reckoned with in 2018.

Spain Park dispatched three of their first four opponents on the first day of action by double digits holding Colquitt County (Ga.), Foley and Gadsden city to 13 points or fewer and didn’t allow any opponents to score 20 until the second day of the tournament.

The Jaguars found their most difficult opponent of the opening day to be the Opelika Bulldogs, but they squeaked by with a slim 18-17 win. It was one of three one-point wins for Spain Park who developed something of a clutch gene both on offense and defense.

Head coach Shawn Raney was pleased with the team and pleasantly surprised with their effort against an array of opponents.

“We have a lot of new kids all over the place in the secondary and at linebacker, and I wanted to see how they would compete,” Raney said. “You’re competing against some of best schools not only in Alabama but across the country, so to see where we match up athletically, I thought our kids did that, and as long as our kids compete we’ll have a chance to win every game we play in so I was real proud of that.”

The Jaguars took the first day’s momentum and channeled it into another three wins against West Monroe (La.), Hillcrest-Tuscaloosa and Jefferson County (Ga.) with the latter two coming after a three-hour weather delay.

The seven straight wins pitted them against fellow undefeated, Spanish Fort. The teams traded touchdowns twice, but an interception—worth three points in 7-on-7 play—ended up being the difference as the Toros pulled it out to finish undefeated in pool play.

“When you come to these tournaments, I talk to our kids about how we handle the ebb and flow of these games,” Raney said. “A lot of good and bad happens to you and it’s how you handle it, staying even keel, and I thought I saw that for three days. Just reaffirms what we’ve been telling the boys this offseason.”

Spain Park was able to salvage the fourth seed on the final day of the tournament, but ran into Hillcrest-Tuscaloosa in a rematch of the second day’s 18-17 wire-to-wire win.

The Patriots had the benefit of a warm up game before the Saturday morning match and were able to get their revenge in an upset bid, 23-14. Hillcrest went on to fall to Spanish Fort in the tournament semifinals.

The Jaguars focus now switches to preparations for fall camp where Raney hopes to combine all his team units now that the skill players have gotten some good experience.

“Basically you’re trying to form your team in these last couple weeks and get everybody on the same page,” he said. “We’ll do some fun things too with some paintball and cookouts to form that camaraderie leading into fall camp.”

Spanish Fort met fellow Mobile resident McGill-Toolen in the tournament finals, but were dominated by their rivals 26-4. Host Hoover was eliminated in the quarterfinals after going 8-0 in pool play.

Photos available at Shelbycountyphotos.com