A collection of Tampa Bay’s top football talent, including the likes of Tampa Bay Tech’s Deon Cain, Sickles’ Ray Ray McCloud III, Hillsborough’s Dwayne Lawson and East Lake’s George Campbell, will converge in Bradenton this weekend for the IMG 7v7 Southeast Regional qualifier. Four teams and more than 75 athletes from Tampa Bay — including two-time defending national champion Team Tampa and 14 of the players ranked in the HomeTeam top 25 for 2015 — will play in a 16-team field that also includes Miami powerhouse South Florida Express and Pro Impact. Pool play begins Saturday at 3 p.m. The championship will be played Sunday afternoon. The top four finishers advance to nationals in June. Here’s a look at the local teams:
Outlook: Team Tampa, ranked No. 1 in the Pylon Sports poll, has never won this event, using it more to tune up for nationals. While SFE has won regionals the past two years, Team Tampa has won the past two national championships, including a 25-24 win over SFE in last year’s final. Team Tampa coaches consider this year’s squad a work in progress, but think it might be a little ahead of last year. Pro Impact or SFE might be the favorite this weekend, but we’ll probably see our fair share of kids “throwing the Ts up.”
Top players: Hillsborough quarterback Dwayne Lawson, who has more than 20 offers, will get almost every snap this weekend. His athleticism may be his best trait, but he possesses a big arm that should play well in 7-on-7. He throws to top wide receivers George Campbell (East Lake) and Auden Tate (Wharton), and Hillsborough’s Anthony King played last year and could see a bigger role in 2014. Armwood’s Aaron Covington anchors the defense — which might be shorthanded this weekend — and is one of Tampa Bay’s best cover guys. He was exceptional last year at nationals.
Keep an eye on: Lakewood’s Ryan Davis. He’s having an excellent offseason, and should be a terror in the middle of the field flanked by the big wideouts. He is quick, speedy and catches everything. In that same role, look for Freedom’s Johnny Rodicio to surprise some people.
On the rise: Don’t be surprised if Alonso defensive back Roosevelt Lawrence, who picked up a Wisconsin offer recently, improves his standing among recruiting analysts on hand this weekend. Same for Berkeley Prep wideout Jacob Mathis and Zephyrhills’ Jaylen Pickett. Mathis, a big body at 6-3 with nice hops and good hands, should get a lot of balls near the end zone.
Did you know? Armwood’s highly rated defensive end, Byron Cowart, can play a little offense, too. Don’t be surprised if he has a touchdown or two this weekend when Team Tampa gets close, but he’s been sighted running a few posts as well this 7-on-7 season.
Outlook: Tuning up, getting exposure and testing the waters are no longer the main objectives for Ricky Sailor’s squad. Winning is. Sailor leads his team into Bradenton hoping to make a splash, which despite showing some glimpses, it hasn’t done just yet. But with a roster teeming with top talent, this might be the weekend.
Top players: There won’t be many teams with a better collection of wide receivers, as UP trots out Tampa Bay Tech’s Deon Cain and Tampa Catholic’s Nate Craig wide to each side, then can run Sickles’ Ray Ray McCloud III out of the slot. Defensively, the backs may not be big names, but Gaither’s Nate Ferguson and Lakewood’s Sekendric Biddines have been exceptional, and Boca Ciega’s Kenyatta Anderson may be Tampa Bay’s most underrated defensive back.
Keep an eye on: Quarterbacks Jack Allison (Palmetto) and Chris Oladokun (Alonso) have played well, though this will be their biggest 7-on-7 stage. Allison is 6-5 and has a big arm, and Oladokun is polished and threw just three picks in 220 attempts as a freshman last fall during the real stuff. Steinbrenner’s Kezio Snelling and Indian Rocks Christian’s Damian King (WRs) have been better than advertised, and Tampa Catholic’s Bentlee Sanders can be unstoppable in the middle of the field.
On the rise: Wharton rising senior Vonte Williams hasn’t played in high school yet, but Sailor says to learn the name, and Sickles’ Issac Levay and Pinellas Park’s Rashaan Watson appear ready to pop this weekend.
Did you know? McCloud may be UP’s best cover guy, but because Lakewood’s Tyrell Hubbard-Smith has been so good, Sailor feels he can save McCloud for offense only. That’s high praise.
Next Level Night Hawks
Outlook: Next Level is taking a big bite out of the 7-on-7 pie. They have to yet to make their mark in two seasons, but give them credit for fearlessly jumping into a deep talent pool. They have a few studs who could earn some pub.
Top players: Plant City sophomore T.J. Chase (five offers, including Miami) is not exactly under the radar, but he should be a bigger blip on it, and will be. Raider teammate Austin Carswell will get most of the snaps at quarterback. East Bay’s KJ Sails and King’s Demetrius Mann are top corners.
Keep an eye on: Mann has been busy this offseason collecting MVP awards at the various camps and combines he’s been attending. He’ll go up against some of the best wide receivers in the state this weekend.
On the rise: Durant cornerback Quentin Williams, Admiral Farragut’s duo of Isadore Wood and Justin Green and Plant City’s Reaquavious Young will get their chances to make some noise. Williams has been impressive this offseason.
Did you know? Chase and Mann have been named MVP a combined five times this offseason.
Team Tampa Too
Outlook: Team Tampa’s “B” team always had some hidden talent and is capable of upsetting one of the more highly regarded teams. Coach Woodrow Grady thinks he has some real gems on this year’s squad.
Top players: Armwood quarterback Noah Johnson was the Battle of the Bay MVP last year and had a great 7-on-7 season, and he’ll share snaps with Clearwater’s Garrison Bryant, who has been receiving some buzz this offseason. Expect Johnson to hook up often with Hawk teammate and the leading wide receiver, Trevor Laurent. Defensively, East Bay’s Christian Angulo is solid and impressed at the Unsigned Preps Showcase during the winter.
Keep an eye on: Freedom receiver Sayff Saed led the Patriots in yards per catch and has dependable hands, and should complement Laurent. Hillsborough’s Rudy Dawson should get lots of balls thrown his way out of the slot. Also, Lakeland quarterback Aaron Johnson will play receiver/defensive back and is an intriguing athlete.
On the rise: Armwood’s Cordell Pimienta has been good, and athlete Darrian McNeal might just be the next big thing out in Seffner. Sunlake defensive back Naejuan Jackson has earned praise from the Team Tampa coaches.
Did you know? Running backs may not get a lot of love in 7-on-7, but Sunlake’s Nathan Johnson is a weapon TT likes to use. He ended last season with 10 straight 100-yard rushing games in leading Pasco County in yards, but he was also fourth on the team with receptions and is earning some serious college looks.