High school football lives in Virginia Beach

A new seven on seven league gives new opportunities to local college football hopefuls

~Matthew Morhiser, Sports Editor~

Just like our athletes here at Christopher Newport University,  high school football players from across the commonwealth of Virginia were saddened to hear their season would be canceled due to health precautions taken against the COVID-19 pandemic. While CNU’s football stars are still waiting to hear official word on when their formal competition can begin, high school players across the area are back on the gridiron in a new way. 

The G.A.M.E. Academy, led by former Virginia Tech Running Backs and Wide Receivers Coach Zohn Burden, has begun weekly seven on seven football games for high schoolers who would otherwise not get to play in front of family, friends, fans and college scouts this fall. Every Friday night starting at 3 p.m. and stretching all the way to 9 p.m., 24 teams take the field at the Virginia Beach Sportsplex for seven on seven competition. Eventually, the two best performing teams’ efforts will culminate eight weeks from now in November when Zohn and The G.A.M.E. Academy hold a championship game. 

A football lies on the sideline of a football field. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

The G.A.M.E. Academy, which stands for Guiding Athletes through Mentoring and Education, began as a non-profit organization founded by Burden as a hands-on means of giving back to his community. Prior to its founding, Burden, as mentioned earlier, worked as an assistant at Virginia Tech, but he also spent time as a coach and coordinator at Old Dominion University, the University of Richmond and Fork Union Military Academy. Burden himself played college football at the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington as a wide receiver. According to Hokiesports.com, Burden accumulated over 2,101 receiving yards on 162 receptions during his playing days from 2002-05. Burden cites his history as a player as a main reason he gained respect from his players during his college coaching career, and similarly during his time as the head coach of his own academy. According to The G.A.M.E. Academy’s official website, high school athletes who join the program will be coached in strength and speed training. Additionally, Burden has stressed the importance of student athlete mentorship. 

While many G.A.M.E. Academy athletes make up the rosters of participating teams in the seven on seven club league, registration was open to any high school athlete looking to keep themselves on the radar of college football university scouts. After registration closed and the 24 teams were finalized, games officially began on Sep. 11, and games have continued to play-out over the past two weeks. The games are live streamed on the academy’s official website, and as of now, no major health risks or cases have been reported. With self-titled “COVID Resolution Officers” on the sidelines enforcing the use of masks for attending fans and providing sanitizer for players and coaches, the league has, to this point, succeeded in their goal of assuring high school athletes with a safely controlled environment to play the game they love. 

Some other particulars of the league include a limit of two games per team each night, an hour long block to practice on the grass field before the games and each team will play a guaranteed 20 games over the 10 week season. The league will also hold a series of playoff games to determine the championship match-up, and there will be an all-star game for the league’s standouts at some point before the season’s conclusion. 

So, what high schoolers are actually playing in these seven on seven games? Firstly, there’s Jalen Jones, a wide receiver and defensive back combo for Deep Creek High School in Chesapeake. Jones is a senior this year, so Burden’s league presents the perfect opportunity for him to send one last message to college scouts should he not get a chance to play for his school in the spring of next year. Next up, there’s Rian Gibson. Gibson, who plays defensive back for Cox High School in Virginia Beach, will be graduating this year, and he’s already received an offer to play football at The College of Wooster in Ohio. Joining him among the players in the seven on seven league who have received college offers is Nansemond River High School’s Julian Soriano. Playing both tight end and tackle for the Warriors, Soriano has received an offer from Newberry College in South Carolina. Then there’s guys like Malik Newton and Rodney Hammond. Two Norfolk natives, Newton, a senior running back for Lake Taylor High School, and Hammond, a senior for Booker T. Washington High School, have both already committed to a National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division I school and Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) member, the University of Pittsburgh. Newton and Hammond are both three star recruits according to 247sports.com, and they headline the list for most notable athletes competing in Burden’s league. 

While the circumstances surrounding its conception are not ideal, Burden and the G.A.M.E. Academy’s seven on seven league is a safe and serviceable alternative to the athletes’ cancelled fall seasons. The league has already seen the likes of sportscaster Bruce Rader and the Wavy News 10 “Friday Night Flights” crew appear at their games, so the authenticity and production value behind the league is not in question. If you are a dedicated local high school football fan who’s missing those cold fall nights in the bleachers, this league should hold you over. 

For more information on the seven on seven league, as wells as links to their official social media accounts, visit: https://www.gameacademynow.com/

Zohn Burden college stays acquired from: https://hokiesports.com 

Newton and Hammond recruitment star rating acquired from: https://247sports.com 

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