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Fantastic Finishby: AFM Editorial Staff
© December 2013
The National Lineman Challenge was the first event of its kind ever conducted.
The NFL High School Player Development program presented by the National Guard capped off another successful year with two thrilling events.
Throughout the late spring and early summer, the focus of the NFL High School Player Development program presented by the National Guard is the nearly 200 multi-day camps that are conducted coast to coast and managed by local coaches. High school football players in underserved markets are given the opportunity to attend top-flight football instruction camps that also include character development sessions – all at no cost to the participants. Since the inception of the HSPD program, the camps have been the cornerstone of the effort to benefit high school student-athletes across America.
Also in 2013, another aspect of the HSPD program expanded and served more high school students than ever before – the Leadership Program. Designed for high school football players who have demonstrated leadership qualities in the classroom, in the community, and on the football field, the one-day Leadership Program included an advanced character development session led by representatives from NFL Player Engagement, a community service activity, and team building activities in conjunction with the National Guard’s leadership reaction course. Considering the impact the HSPD Leadership Program has had with the leaders of tomorrow, it’s a worthwhile addition to the HSPD program that will pay increasing dividends in upcoming years.
When the grassroots events of the HSPD calendar conclude, the national events take the stage, starting with the National 7-on-7 Tournament, which was conducted this year for the 10th time.
No 7-on-7 competition has a greater impact or a higher national profile than the HSPD National 7-on-7 Tournament. The initial phase of the competition is hosted by individual NFL teams throughout the 32 NFL markets. Teams of 12 athletes and two coaches – often the premier athletes in the region – compete for the honor of representing their NFL team in the National 7-on-7 Tournament.
The competition at the regional level is intense, partly because the rewards of winning are so great. Each athlete and coach on the winning team receives an all-expenses-paid trip to the National 7-on-7 Tournament, which for many will be the experience of a lifetime. There, they enjoy four days and three nights of special events and activities and, of course, the thrill of competing against 31 other teams for the HSPD National Championship.
At this year’s National 7-on-7 Tournament, which was hosted by the Cleveland Browns organization at their practice facility in Berea, Ohio, beginning on July 11, the biggest question coming into the event was could anyone beat Miami. The team representing the Dolphins had taken home the title in the previous four National 7-on-7 Tournaments and came to the 2013 event as the heavy favorite to continue their championship run.
At the opening dinner, the 384 participating athletes and 64 coaches were welcomed to the event by famed former NFL receiver Billy “White Shoes” Johnson, who is a Regional Director of the HSPD program. Later in the event, NFL Ambassadors including Tony Stewart, Pete Mitchell, Luther Ellis, and Antonio Freeman delivered the NFL Prep Leadership presentation to breakout groups of athletes and coaches. As with all HSPD events, there is an emphasis on developing strong character so that athletes can be successful in the classroom, in the community, and at home in addition to the playing field.
The first day of 7-on-7 competition featured round robin play where each team played five games – three against teams representing the other teams in their NFL division and two against opponents from the other conference – for a total of 80 games. Two more round robin games were played by each team on day two before all 32 teams were seeded within their divisions to begin the five-round single elimination tournament for the championship. The Vikings and the Eagles both went undefeated in round robin play and the defending champion Dolphins cruised to a 6-1 mark, each earning #1 seeds in their divisions.
In single elimination, the AFC side of the bracket went according to form, with the Dolphins going 4-0 to again advance to the championship game. In the NFC, however, upsets were the order of the day. The Lions, who were only 3-4 in round robin play, knocked off the Vikings to advance from the NFC North and
In likely the biggest upset in HSPD National 7-on-7 Tournament history, the Lions beat the Dolphins 24-14 to end their four-year run as champions and took the championship home to Detroit. Their victory concluded another successful tournament in what has become the largest and most prestigious 7-on-7 competition in the country.
Prior to the competition, the participants were captivated by the NFL Prep Leadership presentation given by NFL Ambassadors Antonio Freeman and Chris Draft. In addition, the athletes took part in the Dream Season program where they had the opportunity to give back to the community by working with
Eight teams of six players took part in the Lineman Challenge, representing various NFL teams. The events were designed to measure speed, strength, and athletic abilities linemen must possess to be successful. Individually scored events, where athletes’ scores or times were totaled to determine winning teams, included shuttle drills, medicine ball toss and broad jump. Additional events where athletes competed for a team time included farmer’s walk relay, sand bag carry and obstacle course.
The most intense events of the Challenge – the tug-of-war and the tire tug – concluded the day’s competition. When the final scores were tabulated, the Cleveland Browns were declared the winners with the Cincinnati Bengals a close second.
While not as large as the National 7-on-7 Tournament, the 2013 HSPD National Lineman Challenge established a model for future events that provide linemen with the same opportunity to represent their NFL cities in a national competition with worthwhile companion events. Together, the two national championships were a fitting conclusion to another great year of the NFL High School Player Development program presented by the National Guard.
THE GUARD INSPIRES
Beginning with the HSPD camps and the Leadership Program events around the country and culminating at the National 7-on-7 Tournament, the National Guard plays a very active role in the HSPD program. Representatives of the Guard are present at every event and take a leadership role in character development sessions, community activities, and leadership training.
Frequently, a National Guardsman will be a major inspiration to the participating athletes. That was the case at the closing banquet of the HSPD National 7-on-7 Tournament, where Brigadier General John Harris addressed the group. General Harris, who is the Assistant Adjutant General for the Ohio National Guard, based his presentation on the importance of trust – “the foundation of teamwork.”
“Trust is created by two components – competence and character,” commented General Harris. “Competence is the Xs and Os aspect. It’s speed, strength and knowledge of the game. Character is the individual’s commitment to his or her values and virtues.”
As the General progressed, it was clear that he impressed and inspired the audience of athletes, as they could easily relate to his topics and themes. “We must not confuse our character with the façade we create for others,” he said. “We should invest our time in assessing ourselves and building our own character and spend less time crafting the person we want others to think we are.” All agreed that it was a powerful and captivating talk from an inspirational leader.
GET INVOLVED Getting involved in the NFL HSPD program lets you give back to the game, gives your players a chance to compete in the National 7-on-7 Tournament, and provides young athletes with a great opportunity to become better football players and better individuals. Visit www.NFLHSPD.com and enter the promo code AFM1013.
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