EARLY — The Early Longhorns will take a crack at earning their first trip to the 7-on-7 state tournament since 2001 today as they compete in the Glen Rose Class 3A/2A/A state qualifier.

Though the Longhorns have competed in a couple of state qualifiers each summer over the past few seasons, Early also has worked on its 7-on-7 skills in weekly leagues held in Abilene. The Longhorns are again doing so this year, competing on Monday nights.

On which stage the Longhorns play their 7-on-7 games isn’t as important as the work the players are able to get in, according to Early head football coach Robbie Tindol.

“We’re going to try and go to as many tournaments as we can,” Tindol said. “If can find a qualifier to be in that’s fine, but we just want the guys to get some practice. We’re playing in the Abilene league and we plan to play in the Brownwood state qualifier (June 21) and possibly in the Abilene tournament (June 14).”

In league play, Early anticipates suiting up as many as 20 varsity players and 18 junior varsity players each Monday.

“We want to get the guys a lot of reps throwing and catching the ball and for them to stay in shape,” Tindol said. “It really comes down to just playing catch with the football.”

In today’s state qualifier at Glen Rose, which starts at 9 a.m., the Longhorns will be paired in pool play with Lake Worth, Godley and Crandall.

If the Longhorns win their pool, they would advance to tournament semifinals and face either Alvarado, Grandview, West or Hillsboro. A victory in the semifinals would earn Early a trip to College Station July 10-11 for the 3A/2A/A state tournament.

The rest of the field consists of Glen Rose, Clifton, Palmer, Eastland, Whitney, LaVilla, Hico and Paradise.

Among the players to keep an eye on for Early this summer are quarterback Nick Lyle, running back Collin Rome and receivers Cody Bullard and Seth Coolbaugh.

Lyle was named the District 6-2A MVP by Dave Campbell’s Texas Football magazine in 2007, while Rome was voted the district MVP by the 6-2A coaches.

Lyle completed 134-of-280 passes for 2,168 yards with 20 touchdowns, while Rome rushed for 1,554 yards and 15 touchdowns, both team-highs.

Bullard led Early with 34 receptions for 548 yards and five touchdowns, while Coolbaugh added 23 catches for 426 yards and four scores.