By Adam Coleman,
Houston Chronicle

COLLEGE STATION — Even a non-contact sport by definition could be safer.

That was the Texas State 7-on-7 Organization’s thinking when it approved a soft-shell helmet requirement last January for the state tournament. This year’s state 7-on-7 tournament is the first in a 22-year history in which headgear is required.

No one is tackling in 7-on-7, but incidental contact remains a possibility.

The state 7-on-7 board believes these efforts help. The soft-shell helmets just can’t be any helmet, either.

They have to hold at least a four-star rating from a Virginia Tech’s review, which is regarded as the best around. The helmets weren’t required for state qualifiers this year considering the timing but will be next year.

There are other requirements with the helmet — no hard plastic and metal components and no sharp edges, and a chin strap is a must.

Many teams in College Station on Thursday and Friday brought previously purchased helmets and some were available for use at the tournament with manufacturer GameBreaker on site. Doug Stephens, 7-on-7 board executive director, expects more vendors next year.

Inadvertently, many of those purchased helmets add a stitch of personality to a tournament plentiful in Adidas-sponsored gear. Teams share the same style of uniforms for state 7-on-7 games, but many sported team-colored helmets with the school logo to match.

Ultimately it’s about safety.

…we can sleep a little bit better at night knowing that we’ve put these kids in a product that’s going to keep them safer.

“Go ask the mothers how they feel about it,” Stephens said. “Go ask the dads how they feel about it. The kids, too, now I think feel better. It’s a good thing, and its safer now than it’s ever been. I don’t know what 10 years holds. Maybe there will be something out there that’s a little bit better, but we can sleep a little bit better at night knowing that we’ve put these kids in a product that’s going to keep them safer.”

Father-son connections

Ted Pardee and Bucky Richardson never delved into coaching after their football careers, but 7-on-7 gives them the chance to at least get a taste.

The bonus is coaching their sons for the summer.

Pardee, the son of former Gamblers, University of Houston and Oilers coach Jack Pardee and a UH product himself, is coaching Klein Cain in its state 7-on-7 debut. Ted’s son is senior Klein Cain quarterback Luke Pardee.

Richardson, a former Texas A&M and NFL quarterback, has been coaching Ridge Point’s 7-on-7 team for five years. His son John Paul is a junior receiver on the team.

John Paul said the family is in College Station often outside of 7-on-7.

“It’s great,” said John Paul of having his father on the sideline. “Having him as one of the coaches is kind of cool because we already have that father-son connection.”

His father lauds the 7-on-7 environment.

“It’s intense and it’s competitive, and there’s a lot of good teams out here and good players,” Bucky said. “So you just have to be dialed in mentally and be ready to go.”

Ted played for his father and once coached Luke in Little League. It’s another chapter of football for both the Pardee and Richardson families made possible by the UIL by not allowing high school coaches to coach 7-on-7 games.

“What I like so much about the dads being involved is it keeps you connected to the program,” Ted said. “I’m never going to overstep because (the Klein Cain coaches) are the real coaches. But it gives me a chance to kind of remain involved in my son’s athletic life.”

Klein Cain’s debut varsity season was last year. Luke is hoping 2019 is the season that establishes the culture.

Luke said he is often asked about his grandfather, who died when he was 13.

“It’s always cool to hear about it because usually people have great things to say about him,” Luke said. “That’s really the biggest thing. Usually the first thing people say about him is not about what he was as a football player but more of what he was as a man. … He set a great example for how all the men in our family should act.

“My dad and brother look up to him, and he’s just a true man of character. That’s the best thing about that legacy.”

Area teams rule in pool

Manvel went 3-0 to finish atop of Pool C in Friday state tournament play. The Mavs defeated Flower Mound Marcus 40-26, El Paso Eastwood 42-27 and Mesquite Horn 47-32.

A few other notable first-place finishers from the Houston area include Cy-Fair out of Pool E at 3-0, Cypress Falls out of Pool H at 2-1 and Katy in Pool N at 3-0. Cypress Woods and Travis are first-place finishers from pool play as well.

The top two teams from each pool of four advance to Saturday’s championship bracket, while the bottom two are in the consolation group.

The Houston area’s last 7-on-7 state champion was The Woodlands in 2016 when it bested Dickinson in an all-Houston Division I final.

Stay protected and shop our collection of 7 on 7 helmets and padded football helmets today.