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Area teams make strides at Aurora Christian 7-on-7

AURORA – Marmion senior Sean Campbell verifies the spelling of his surname with a grin and a promise of, "Just like the soup."

Decompressing from a busy 7-on-7 at Aurora Christian Tuesday night, Campbell planned to opt for a chicken breast, protein shake and perhaps some cereal – pending the contents of the family cupboard.

Only 12 Cadets participated in games against Kaneland, Metea Valley and the host Eagles, including Campbell, a running back and defensive back eager to boost his reserve and special teams role from 2013.

"Yeah, it is great conditioning," Campbell said. "We had a couple subs here and there with all the guys vacationing and stuff. I feel like I'm in condition from all the camps, and this helps, too, because I might be going both ways next year."

Most coaches at 7-on-7s statewide admit they've barely scratched the surface of their depth charts at this point in the offseason.

With the first fall practice scheduled for Aug. 11, there's certainly no shame.

On Tuesday, about the only thing in midseason form was the pocket of fans dressed in long sleeves and jeans to combat a cool breeze. Even an announcement seeking the owner of a white plumbing truck blocking a section of the parking lot sounded without the aid of a public address system.

At Kaneland, coach Tom Fedderly faces the task of replacing longtime starting skill position players in quarterback Drew David and running back Jesse Balluff. While junior Jake Marczuk and returning senior Isaac Swithers appear primed to fill those respective roles – potential stars flanking Fedderly's senior son, Connor, at wide receiver – the urgency remains on hold for now.

Not every Knight was present and accounted for Tuesday, and Fedderly still is waiting to begin summer camp later this month, a traditional move given the program's usual haul of multi-sport athletes.

"This is a chance for us to come out and compete. Have fun and see who wants to make plays," Fedderly said. "So, for us, it's just a great night. A fun night. We can make mistakes and learn from them and have fun."

Hosting the round-robin kicked off a busy stretch for Aurora Christian, which is set to participate in this weekend's Southwest Elite 7-on-7 Showcase in Springdale, Arkansas.

The Eagles will play seven pool play games Friday – facing foes from Arkansas, Missouri and Oklahoma – before those results determine their seeding in Saturday's tournament.

Schools from Indiana and Kansas also will compete among 32 teams.

"It's a pretty cool event," first-year Eagles coach Dave Beebe said. "Our kids, they really get a lot out of it."

In turn, the showcase gets its share from them, as athletes navigate a grueling stretch in the northwest corner of The Natural State. Aurora Christian leaves by bus Thursday morning before returning Saturday night.

"It's tougher on us, because we just don't have a ton of kids. We've got a few kids that will be going both ways, where most schools down there, they don't. They have offensive and defensive units," Beebe said. "But we enjoy the challenge. That's fine with us. With the Arkansas heat, it can pose a problem. … As a staff, we've got to be smart about how we take care of the kids and their bodies, but it's fun."

Regardless of a 7-on-7's locale, the objective doesn't change – harness fundamentals and timing so everything runs and looks as smoothly as possible once the season starts.

Among the Chronicle-area teams on hand Tuesday, Aurora Christian enters with a head start by returning Austin Bray at quarterback. Bray helped the Eagles to a Class 3A semifinal in 2013 as the program fell short of a state championship three-peat.

Marmion, like Kaneland a returning playoff qualifier, graduated its quarterback, as well, and braces for a new candidate to take the reins.

Senior Rusty Joyce and junior John Tate shape up as the front-runners, but this wasn't the time for separation.

The Cadets concluded the first stages of their summer camp a few weeks ago and are in the middle of a two-week break from the playbook, only meeting for strength and conditioning.

"They got a lot of reps against tremendous competition," Marmion coach Dan Thorpe said. "I was happy with how we did."

He hopes to repeat that last part in a little more than three months. The Cadets return to Aurora Christian in Week 8 for an 11-on-11 competition that counts toward the standings, not just stamina.

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