St. Thomas More quarterback Caleb Holstein gets off pass against Teurlings Catholic during their high school football game Friday, Oct. 13, 2017 at Teurlings Catholic High School in Lafayette, La.

The concept of elite 7-on-7 football — skill position players competing in a game of touch on a 40-yard field — doesn't convey its popularity or controversial nature. 

Receivers, defensive backs and quarterbacks, the latter of whom have four seconds to throw a pass before an electronic timer is sounded, love it.

Hardcore recruiting fans flock to websites like 247Sports and Rivals, where readers can learn about prospects from across the state who combine to form all-star 7-on-7 teams that travel to tournaments in Atlanta, Las Vegas and Los Angeles.

High school coaches, meanwhile, have a variety of opinions about select 7-on-7, which requires players to spend time away from their own school's team.

"I've dedicated five years to learning as much as I can about it," St. Thomas More offensive coordinator Shane Savoie said. "Right now we're in Year 3."

All three of Savoie's quarterbacks at STM dot the rosters of the two premier 7-on-7 programs in the state: the EPS Blaze and the Louisiana Bootleggers.

"I haven't formed my complete opinion about it yet," Savoie said. "College coaches say it has zero bearing on recruiting. However, players seem to be getting scholarship offers in conjunction with it. If it benefits our kids, I want them to be there."

In late May, the Pylon 7-on-7 national championship series was held in Atlanta with the Bootleggers going undefeated to win the 15-and-under age group.

St. Thomas More starting quarterback Caleb Holstein was the quarterback for the Bootleggers senior team, while younger brother Eli called the signals for the 15-and-under squad.

STM sophomore quarterback Walker Howard, on the other hand, served as the backup to LSU commitment T.J. Finley on the rival EPS Blaze.

Matthew Joseph Jr., a former lineman at Southeastern Louisiana, is the founder of the Blaze. Based out of the Lake Charles area, Joseph runs Elite Prospect Scouting, a recruiting service that caters to under-the-radar prospects that need help drawing attention from college coaches.

"I started the Blaze five years ago," Joseph said. "It's changed since then in that it's more than just local kids wanting to compete. Social media changed everything for us and got us to the national stage."

The Blaze came into the Pylon event as the No. 1 seed in the senior division and finished in the top 10.

"We don't have a 15-and-under team," Joseph said. "We make our younger players compete with the older group."

Clemson star running back Travis Etienne was a member of the Blaze during his high school career at Jennings High School.

"We're sponsored by Adidas," Joseph said. "We're the only Adidas team in Louisiana and one of only two in the region. They put our kids in top-notch gear and hold three big national events each year."

Finley, a four-star quarterback from Ponchatoula, will turn over the keys of the Blaze's offense next year to Howard, who already holds offers from programs such as LSU and Alabama.

"Walker is a great kid who will be one of our upcoming leaders next year," said Joseph, who also has STM junior wide receiver Jack Bech on his squad.

"Our job is to put a great product on the field and take advantage of opportunities. These guys get a ton of media coverage and exposure. Adidas has a West Coast event in California where we also get to see schools like USC and UCLA."

The Bootleggers 15-and-under championship team featured several local underclassmen, including Malik Nabers (Comeaux), Darian Riggs (LCA), Mandrel Butler (St. Martinville), Bailey Despanie (Carencro) and the younger Holstein, who will be a freshman at STM.

"The players get the opportunity to face different competition they wouldn't see on a daily basis," said Donald Fusilier, who coaches the Bootleggers local 15-and-under team.

A personal trainer who owns The Team Fuse Camp LLC, Fusilier is a New Iberia native and Westgate High grad who played college and arena football.

"I believe 7-on-7 is best at developing quarterbacks, receivers and defensive backs," said Fusilier, who was recently tapped as the trainer for Southside High boys basketball by coach Brad Boyd.

The Bootleggers fielded three 15-and-under teams this year, with Fusilier's squad losing to Baton Rouge in the finals of the Pylon New Orleans tournament.

"We register for different tournaments where you can qualify for nationals," Fusilier said. "After New Orleans, we told the guys from the three teams that we were going to combine them for Atlanta."

The Bootleggers came into the national tourney seeded second.

"There was a team from Miami ranked No. 1 in the country," Fusilier said. "They had won four other tournaments. We won six or seven games in pool play to advance to the championship, where we beat Miami in overtime."

Nabers, a rising junior at Comeaux, was the star player for the Bootleggers along with Holstein, who ironically was the quarterback for the Baton Rouge Bootleggers team that defeated Lafayette in New Orleans.

"Malik was a guy nobody really knew about," Fusilier said. "He plays in a Wing-T offense in high school where they don't throw the ball as much as a spread team.

"As 7-on-7 kept going on, people started seeing his ability with the way he catches every ball thrown his way, and how he makes the difficult plays look easy."

Shortly after the event in Atlanta, Nabers received his first scholarship offer.

"He got 11 offers in a three-week period," Fusilier said. "The goal is basically to find a guy like Malik, an unknown gem, that will benefit from 7-on-7."

Not all area coaches are sold on the benefits of select 7-on-7.

"We don't think it's good," New Iberia Senior High coach Curt Ware said. "It's kind of like AAU basketball. I just don't know enough about it.

"Do they have trainers there at every practice? It could be a safety issue. Are the people running it actually coaches or just guys off the street?"

Ware said players and parents might get unrealistic expectations.

"They tell kids this will help get them a scholarship, and that's not necessarily true," Ware said. "Sometimes parents get misled.

"College coaches go through high school coaches to get recommendations on players, in addition to watching film."

Catholic-New Iberia coach Brent Indest won't prevent his players from participating, but he also doesn't endorse it.

"Anybody who knows anything about youth athletics knows AAU basketball causes the most problems," Indest said, "from exploitation of players to illegal recruitment.

"Most of the time the people have the best interests of kids at heart, but not always. With a national company sponsoring this, there's a concern with how it all ties in with the stuff going on in NCAA basketball, and people eventually brokering kids to colleges. When too many people get involved, it muddies the water."

Jimmy Smith is the publisher of, an LSU site on the recruiting network.

"Any time a kid is doing something positive in the offseason, it's a plus, especially when it's working on their craft," Smith said. "Every kid can get something out of it.

"A lot of teams aren't necessarily heavy passing teams in high school, so you get receivers who run 40 routes in one 7-on-7 game that may only get 20 total receptions during the entire season."

Smith said 7-on-7 does help players get noticed by college coaches.

"It helps a lot with evaluation for wide receivers and defensive backs," he said. "College coaches can't attend, but there's plenty of video footage available online, as well as articles about the events.

"It also introduces kids to the opportunity to play outside the comfort zone of their high school system, and you get to see their competitive spirit. You see who is ready for the challenge and who shies away."