EARLY — The Early Longhorns are adopting a new 7-on-7 approach this summer, competing in three state qualifying events as they seek their first-ever trip to a 7-on-7 state tournament.

The Longhorns’ first appearance his summer in a qualifier occurs Saturday at Gatesville, followed by trips to Jim Ned on June 15 and Brownwood on June 22.

“We haven’t gone to a lot of tournaments, but we decided last year after we went to Brownwood to up our game, put ourselves out there and go see what we’re made of in other tournaments,” Early head football coach Blake Sandford said. “We want to improve our game, but whatever we do, it’s all geared toward what we’re trying to accomplish in the fall. It’s a tool we’re going to use not to try and be 7-on-7 champions, but to be more competitive in the fall.”

Like most head coaches, Sandford believes the wins and losses during the summer don’t matter — it’s the repetitions that counts.

“We want to go compete, and at these qualifying tournaments everybody is working real hard to get themselves to College Station for the state 7-on-7 tournament,” Sandford said. “But we’re using this as a vehicle to improve our passing game, our route running and our release by the quarterback. And on the defensive side, we want to get a leg up and see as many offensive approaches as we can.”

Early — which is coming off a 3-7 campaign in 2017 — will tangle with host Gatesville, Lampasas, and  Rockdale in pool play beginning at 9 a.m. Saturday at McKamie Stadium. Class 4A Lampasas went 2-8 last year, 4A Gatesville finished 7-4 after a 7-0 start and Rockdale posted a 13-3 record en route to the Class 3A Division I state championship.

“The only way to get better is to go against good schools,” Sandford said. “Those are three real good schools, Lampasas, Rockdale and Gatesville. They group 4As and 3A Division I together, so at any those qualifying tournaments we’re going to be going against 4A schools, and that’s fine.”

The rest of the tournament field includes Brownwood, Mineral Wells, Little River-Academy and Cameron Yoe in Pool C at Gatesville High School; Lorena, which has already qualified, hosting Pool A along with Groesbeck, Glen Rose and Waco La Vega; and China Spring hosting Pool B along with Stephenville, Waco Connally and Hillsboro.

Players expected to compete at the Gatesville qualifier for the Longhorns include quarterbacks Ryan Trompler and Brent Grooms, along with receivers Ty Schafer, Jesson Tarrant, David Shields, Johnny Club, Jonathan Morales, Timmy Smithson, Jerry Fowler and Carlos Moreno. Defensive players to keep an eye on include Jayden Lehde, Brandon Lombrano, John Griffin, Ryan Hicks, Abe Martin and Austin Revell.

The 7-on-7 Division II state tournament will take place Thursday, June 28 and Friday, June 29 at Veterans Park and Athletic Complex in College Station.