BRADENTON, FLA. — Sunday brought great action and unpredictability to the IMG 7v7 National Championships. Team Tampa, the defending champion, upset the South Florida Express juggernaut twice on the day, including a thrilling 25-24 final.
Express has roughly 20 recruits who are or will eventually be rated four stars or higher — and it had won its four Saturday games by an average of five touchdowns. So how did Team Tampa, almost completely rebuilt from last year, pull it off? Smart coaching, patience, and two players playing up to their potential.
Artavis "Tay" Scott, of East Lake High School on the outskirts of Tampa, was the same excellent player he had been last year for Team Tampa. Only this time around, the receiver pulled double duty, picking up first downs on offense, and being a key stopper at cornerback on the defensive side. Scott proved too much to handle on the inside for a relatively young SFE defense, catching almost 20 passes in the two wins. He also provided some fire and confidence for the members of Team Tampa, who may have been initially intimidated by the SFE squad.
Playing to potential
His teammate George Campbell, a 6'4, 190-pound freak of a 2015 receiver prospect with offers from across the country, had often been more about talent than production. The knock on Campbell had been his ability to actually catch the football -- an important part of playing receiver. Early Sunday, Campbell had some drops and bobbles. But then he ditched his gloves, electing to go with his bare hands. In the process, he found some confidence.
"If you want a pair of gloves, they're in that trash can over there," he said, pointing. "I'm gloveless." Campbell made several clutch, highlight catches for Tampa in both of the wins over SFE. Campbell also played quite a bit of defensive back on the day, causing teams to avoid the middle of the field.
The recruit throwing Scott and Campbell those passes? Chase Litton, of Tampa (Fla.) Wharton. Litton, a recent USF commitment, has the look of an elite quarterback at 6'4. His ball certainly looks like it's being thrown by one. But for much of his high school career, he had issues with consistency, accuracy, anticipation, reading defenses, and decision making.
On Sunday, it was as if Litton grew up. He showed off his big arm and, into a stiff wind, there were several college throws that needed every bit of arm strength Litton had. But more impressive, at least considering his past performances, were the passes he didn't throw. Litton consistently chose the correct receiver, and used the appropriate amount of velocity and trajectory. He threw in rhythm and on time, and did not turn the ball over in the final.
Against a team with speed like SFE, it is important to remain patient. Behind Litton, Tampa did just that. The team stayed away from SFE's corners, and picked on its safeties and underneath defenders, who struggled for much of the day with adjustments to rub routes and mesh concepts. The strategy also limited possessions. In some games, SFE had seven or eight possessions. In the final, it had only four.