Miami’s Florida Fire was crowned as the national champions after upending Tampa, Fla.’s Unsigned Preps, 20-18, and going a perfect 9-0 (4-0 pool play, 5-0 tournament) during the fourth annual IMG7v7 National Championship held at IMG Academy from June 20-22. The Fire were led by a high-powered scoring assault orchestrated by QB Kalyn Kato Nelson (Champagnaut Catholic School/Miami, Fla.) and a star-studded crew of Alabama commits Calvin Ridley (Monarch HS/Miami, Fla.) and Shawn Burgess-Becker (Monarch HS/Miami, Fla.). According to Head Coach Dennis Marroquin, the team was eager to prove itself as the nation’s best.
"The kids were very hungry and it goes all the way back to our tryouts," said Marroquin. "The kids knew that to get the respect they deserved, they had to go out there and win... to win against this level of competition and that are known nationally known, we earned this."
Unsigned Preps were vying to keep the National Championship in Tampa after back-to-back champion Team Tampa was eliminated earlier in the day. Unsigned Preps featured an opposing wide receiver trip comprised of Deon Cain (Tampa Bay Tech/Tampa, Fla.), Nate Craig (Tampa Bay Tech/Tampa, Fla.) and Ray Ray McCloud (Sickles HS/Tampa, Fla.).
However, the biggest movers on the day were the Michigan Elite. The Detroit-based team entered the day as the No. 32 seed after coming up shy in each of their four pool play games. They were able to finish in third thanks to a total team effort spearheaded by superb QB play from Jacob Baldwin (Grand Ledge HS/Grand Ledge, Mich.) as well as ATH Sean Bunting (Chippewa Valley HS/McComb Heights, Mich.).
"We weren’t surprised how things went today – we started off pool play a little slow, but we were close in every game yesterday so we knew we could win," remarked Michigan Elite Head Coach Ron Rice. "I don’t know what happened overnight, I don’t know what they had for breakfast, but everything started clicking… It was a long trip, but the guys had a great time, but very well worth – they played a lot and learned a lot."
Meanwhile, the Future STARS ended with a south Florida matchup between Ft. Lauderdale’s Adrenaline Rush and Miami’s Red Zone Elite. A year ago, the Adrenaline Rush were one errant pass away from reaching the finals, but this year, they closed the gap and won it all after taking down Red Zone Elite.
"This year, we re-tooled and knew more of what to expect and our kids did their job and earned the title," said Adrenaline Rush Head Coach Jerry Scalzo. "Our players held their own here against some of the best competition from around the country at some of the best facilities in the nation and got to size up against other players. It was great."
At the end of the day, the top four teams at the IMG7v7 National Championship were: 1. Florida Fire, 2. Unsigned Preps, 3. Michigan Elite and 4. BBT Athletics (Los Angeles, Calif.).
For some players, 7v7 and recruiting is about earning as much positive college exposure as possible. Although one of the most highly-rated players in the nation, Byron Cowart (Armwood HS/Seffner, Fla.), is using that attention to make a difference in someone’s life. A month ago, Cowart met a 10-year old boy, Jeovani "JoJo" Ortiz. Ortiz is from Tampa boy and suffers from Crohn’s disease. Cowart has formed a strong bond with JoJo, who joined the star defender at 7v7 events and combines, and will be joining Cowart on recruiting visits in the near future.
"His Crohn’s disease has slowed him down, and his dream is to one day play QB, plus he’s an only child and I’m an only child, so we had an instant connection and bond," said Cowart. "He gives me a fire and motivation, and everything I do on the field I’m doing it for him."
Cowart added, "It’s not always about you. I’m not just going to worry about me and let it all be about football and Byron Cowart – you don’t get anywhere like that – so with the attention I’ve been getting, why not do something for someone and let everyone know that JoJo is a kid in need and we can do something for him? That’s what counts."