What: IMG 7v7 Southeast Regional Championship
When: Saturday (pool play 2:45 p.m.-7:45 p.m.) and Sunday (double-elimination bracket play 9 a.m.-4:10 p.m.)
Where: IMG Academy in Bradenton
At stake: This is the first of six regionals held across the country. The top four teams advance to the national championship June 28-30.
Disclaimer: Yes, we know it's not real football. We know it's not a precursor to what happens in the fall. But it is exactly what it is: an exposure event that features all the skills positions players playing in front of a host of national recruiting analysts who often, it not always, base their rankings and recommendations partly off the results. And besides, it's fun.
10 things to know
1. Team Tampa, the defending national champion, will play Unsigned Preps. They will be in the same pool. Fun will be had by all.
It will be one of the most exciting and interesting tournament games because it is so heavily anticipated. While Team Tampa, coached by Woodrow Grady, continues to downplay it, UPreps and coach Ricky Sailor crave it. The peg of the big bad Team Tampa all-stars against the scrappy little Unsigned Preps team should make for a cinematic performance, if not on the field, then certainly on the sidelines.
2. For kicks, I'd list Team Tampa as something like a six- to eight-point favorite. I think I might make that spread a touch more, but the champs won't have the pressure of having to do something. They will use this weekend as a scrimmage, since they have yet to play in any tournaments. They don't have to win this to advance to the nationals, because the defending champs are already in via bye.
UPreps, on the other hand, has to do something. And they will be jacked beyond description when they get their chance. I think that little brother fervor might outweight any desire of the champs to defend their turf, giving UPreps a little extra boost. But make no mistake, Team Tampa wants to win. In fact, it would like nothing more than to crush UPreps.
Oh, and the winner owns Twitter for a week. At least.
3. Yes, the quarterback spot is the most important in 7-on-7. But Wharton's Vernon Hargreaves III and Armwood's Leon McQuay III were so darned good last year, they were must-see. And truthfully, I think that was the biggest advantage they had on opponents, and the No. 1 reason Team Tampa won.
So, who replaces them this year? Both are close to once-in-a-lifetime players. And to have both on the same team will be impossible to replicate.
The answer, then, is no one.
And that's what makes Northeast defensive back Chris Jackson as one of the guys with the most to gain.
A guy like Jackson, who has been great in practice, is the most unknown of a defensive backfield that includes Gaither's Amani Oruwariye (six offers), Countryside's Mike Johnson (nine, includng USF and FSU), Armwood's Kyle Gibson (12, including Michigan State, Notre Dame and USF) and Gibbs' Maurice Hall (Oklahoma offer). Most recruiting analysts at this weekend's event (and at nationals in June) will probably be focused in on who fills in for Team Tampa's vaunted pass defenders of a year ago.
Jackson could get known in a hurry.
There may not be a Hargreaves or McQuay in the group, but there's a bunch of players in there with BCS offers who could be on their way.
4. Wanna know who the best cover guy is on Team Tampa? East Lake's Artavis Scott, I've been told.
One of Team Tampa's standouts last year at wide receiver and arguably Tampa Bay's best all-around football player, his greatest contribution this weekend could come at defensive back. Scott has been Team Tampa's best lockdown corner in practices, and he hasn't been working all that much on offense, though with George Campbell sidelined by injury that will change.
The fact that Scott is good enough to be, possibly, Team Tampa's best wide receiver and best cover guy is pretty frightening.
5. For all the talk of Team Tampa's talent, Sailor has managed to put together an impressive group as well.
Tampa Catholic's T.J. Harrell has more than 20 offers and is one of Tampa Bay's top-10 recruits. Pasco's Nate Craig is almost certainly going to be the top recruit locally in the 2016 class. Then throw in unknown gems like Tampa Bay Tech's Tajee Fullwood and Deon Thompson, Jefferson's Chavez Pownell and Derrick Ingram and Nature Coast Tech's Johnathon Thomas.
They are not very deep at quarterback, however, and it's a long grind this weekend (at least six games, and Sailor hopes more), but UPreps got some good experience playing in two tournaments already so they are as ready as they can be.
6. We have no idea how good Team Tampa is (though we're guessing pretty dang good). Sure, they get a bye for being champions, but the best three to four players off that team are gone, and they haven't competed against anyone other than scrimmages against an alumni team and an all-star team from Polk County.
But if you don't think Team Tampa is loaded with potential, consider this: it is sending a B Team to Bradenton this weekend as well.
It's called Team Tampa Too. Nice work, by the way, whoever came up with that name.
Berkeley Prep quarterback Brad Mayes will head it up, though keep in mind he's more a 1A guy behind Team Tampa starter Chase Litton, and he's good enough that he'll probably see lots of time at the June nationals. The Team Tampa coaches will be watching closely to see how Mayes does, as some see him as a potential starter down the road, if not this summer then certainly next year.
Largo's Reggie Campbell, Jarvis Stewart and Frankie Hernandez, Lakewood's Tyrae Boykins, Oshario Mitchell and Albert Laskett, Wharton's Auden Tate and Alonso's Derius Davis make a pretty solid core for a "second" team that should be very competitive. In fact, this isn't so much a team of guys not good enough for Team Tampa, but rather a group of guys still trying to prove themselves or just needing to make more practices.
7. By the way, as a brief aside, Newsome may run the wing-T and be one of the last schools you think about when it comes to 7-on-7, but it has three players on Team Tampa Too (wide receiver Tyson Mills, running back Austin Shear, defensive back Darius McGrew) and another on Team Tampa (safety Aaron Wade). Well done, Wolves.
8. Most eyes will be on the quarterbacks, and Litton and Gaither's Alex McGough will throw for Team Tampa, with Jefferson's Deiondre Porter starting for Unsigned Preps.
Litton's star has been quickly rising this spring, and holding offers from LSU, USF and Western Michigan he could have a breakout weekend. Last year, East Lake's Pete DiNovo (UCF) used his Team Tampa experience to really bolster his resume on and off the field, and the 2014 Wildcat has the potential to do the same. DiNovo possessed laser-like accuracy and a knack for leadership that was unmatched, so Litton has big shoes to fill and something to prove.
Same for McGough, who burst onto the recruiting radar with his 2011 performance at the USF Sling-N-Shoot II and is looking to recapture that buzz this offseason.
Porter, a gifted athlete without any football offers, has a golden opportunity this weekend to make a big splash. He has put up big numbers in high school ball, but he'll have more than a dozen recruiting analysts watching him work in Bradenton.
9. Unsigned Preps and Team Tampa can only hope to have the same kind of rivalry the South Florida Express Elite and the Florida Fire have.
A few years ago, the Fire were composed of kids that were cut by SFE during tryouts. With a chip on its shoulder, the Fire surprised everyone and went on to beat SFE and win the national 7-on-7 title.
The animosity between the programs, I have read, still burns bright.
Florida Fire, by the way, have been cleaning up on the 7-on-7 circuit leading up to this, and with a roster swimming in Division I-A football scholarship offers, they'd have to be listed as the favorite, with SFE Elite not far behind.
10. In fact, HERE IS a nice little write-up of the tournament by recruiting analyst Corey Long (he is associated with Team Tampa, FYI) that goes beyond the Tampa teams if you plan on attending and want to know what's going on.
Six picks to click for Team Tampa
1. Keith Harrington, Northeast: Ready to break out. He is a running back that thanks to superb hands, has 1,000-1,000 potential next fall. He will be a handful for linebackers trying to cover him.
2. Litton: He could walk away from the Team Tampa experience with a bushel of offers and a quick climb up the recruiting rankings. With a tall frame and a cannon arm, he can make any throw.
4. Ryan Davis, Northeast: He needs to prove to recruitniks and colleges that he can play wide receiver, and since he's the Vikings' starting quarterback this is the only chance he gets. He has shown in practice that he's up to the challenge.
5. Jocqui Ellison, Lakewood: The talented Spartan is primed for a breakout fall season in pads, but should wow with his athleticism this weekend.
6. Oruwariye: Has a great chance to be the guy who comes closest to replicating Hargreaves' perfromances from last year. Colleges have already started to take notice.
Six picks to click for Unsigned Preps
1. Porter: Not too many people would put him ahead of any of the Team Tampa or Team Tampa Too quarterbacks right now, but that could change by Sunday night. Not sure anyone in the tournament that makes his home in Tampa Bay has more to gain this weekend than this Dragon.
2. Craig: Forget 7-on-7 and high school ball, those around him are already joking around about what round of the NFL draft he's going to go in. No, seriously. Only a freshman, and already boasting a Texas Tech offer, Craig is actually more well known than people would lead you to believe, so recruiting analysts will be watching with interest.
3. Cordell Hudson, Largo: He's received some internet hype, but he has to turn in some big performances this weekend and prove he is a lockdown guy for UPreps to have a chance. If he can, and follows that with a good spring, the offers should start coming in.
4. Ray Ray McCloud, Sickles: He's UPreps' best player, say coaches. He's riding a little wave of buzz that should swell this weekend.
5. Anthony Davis, Chamberlain: Linebackers may not always have the biggest impact in 7-on-7, but as the team's emotional leader, his contribution is measured in different ways.
6. Deon Cain, Tampa Bay Tech: He's the Titans quarterback, but also an exceptional wide receiver. In fact, he may be as athletic as Craig, and lined up opposite the Pirate star, they may form one of the better and soon to be recognized duos in Bradenton.