BRANSON, Mo. — High School football players from Missouri and Arkansas descended on Pirate Stadium on Thursday for a taste of football.

Branson’s third annual Border Battle 7-on-7 tournament is quickly becoming a must-do offseason event.

The 2020 Border Battle was canceled because of the COVID pandemic, leaving players and coaches a little more excited this time around.

24 teams across Missouri and Arkansas competed in the five game guarantee tournament, but it’s not just for conditioning.

For the coaches, it’s their first glance at what their team might look like in the fall.

“7-on-7 is a good litmus test, it doesn’t tell you exactly how you are going to do,” Branson football coach Anthony Hays said. “You know, we are missing the big boys up front that make a big difference, but I think it shows your team’s competitiveness. Because they are only 20 minute games there are a lot of momentum swings really, really fast. So you can kind of see how your kids are going to react to that and you can learn from that and you can coach to that.”

The coaches may be trying to evaluate players and install new plays, but for the players it’s all about fun and competition.

It’s a way to break up the monotony of summer workouts, which primarily focus on strength and conditioning.

“Going all summer, just getting up and doing stuff every day. This is going to help us moving on, especially moving into the games,” Nixa senior running back Casen Hammitt said. “It has helped us in preparing, even for this tournament.”

For some, it can also be considered an unofficial start of their senior season.

“It’s something different than what we have been doing every day, but it’s also fun,” Branson senior linebacker Colton Cooper said. “I’ve had a lot of fun this year with the 7-on-7s. Realizing that I am a senior so this is my last year and I want to have fun with it, that’s what these 7-on-7s bring. It’s definitely all about competition, but also having fun with the other teams you are playing.”

The Pirates, in partnership with the local FCA chapter, brought in former NFL cornerback Ray McElroy to talk to the athletes before the tournament began.