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Best of the Best© August/September 2014
The team representing the Miami Dolphins captured the title at the NFL High School Player Development National 7-on-7 Tournament presented by the National Guard.
As more and more coaches and skill-position players have recognized the value of off-season competition as a way to fine-tune their passing attacks, 7-on-7 events have flourished. There are dozens of tournaments across the country in the summer months, with some featuring hundreds of teams competing for local and regional supremacy.
But one 7-on-7 competition stands out from the crowd. It’s the only one where hundreds of teams participate in regional events, competing at NFL team facilities for all-expenses-paid trips to a multi-day national championship where they represent their NFL team. It’s the only event program where all participants receive character-building instruction that helps them succeed off the field as individuals. And it’s the only 7-on-7 competition that has the involvement of two of America’s most renowned institutions – the National Football League and the National Guard. It is the NFL HSPD National 7-on-7 Tournament presented by the National Guard.
Now in its 11th year, the HSPD National 7-on-7 Tournament has become established as the premier 7-on-7 competition in the country. Naturally, the athletic talent displayed by each team is phenomenal. But it’s the unique off-the–field activities that make a lasting impression on the participants and set the event apart from all others.
The competition begins at regional tournaments conducted in NFL cities. Teams of 12 players and two coaches vie for the right to represent NFL teams in the National Tournament over two days of team play. For the third year in a row, all 32 NFL cities hosted regional 7-on-7 events, with hundreds of teams participating.
At the National 7-on-7 Tournament, which was contested in July at the Indianapolis Colts’ facility, the 32 teams competed in a 7-game round robin format that determined the seedings for the single-elimination tournament that began on the second day. One team, the Miami Dolphins squad, emerged from pool play undefeated and earned the overall number one seed.
The Miami team was no stranger to success at the HSPD National 7-on-7 Tournament, having captured the national title in four consecutive years, 2009-2012, and making it to the championship game last year. This year’s Miami squad, consisting of coaches and players from Booker T. Washington High School, returned the Dolphins to prominence – cruising through the tournament undefeated to bring home their fifth title in six years.
For all participating teams, the experience of competing in the National 7-on-7 Tournament was rewarding. Said Johnny Randazzo, representing the Minnesota Vikings, “Playing those games made our team figure out how all of us can be leaders on the field. Also, that communicating with each other on the field can bring us closer and build more team chemistry for the regular season.”
At the National 7-on-7 Tournament, the NFL and the National Guard arranged for a contingent of inspirational speakers to address the participants during the three evening functions. On the opening night, current Colts tight end Dwayne Allen delivered an inspirational message to the audience of 500 that focused on four key points for self-improvement:
The closing banquet opened with famed wide receiver and kick returner Billy “White Shoes” Johnson discussing the importance of perception, avoiding pitfalls, and practicing behavior that others will respect and admire.
There was widespread agreement that the highlight of the final evening was the talk delivered by Josh Bleill. While on combat patrol in Fallujah, Iraq, in October 2006, Bleill’s Humvee was struck by an IED, tearing through the vehicle and killing two of his fellow marines while severely injuring Bleill and his best friend. He awoke five days later to learn of the catastrophic loss of his two friends and both of his legs. Recovering physically presented a great challenge, but the mental recovery was the toughest battle. For three and a half months he never left the hospital because he didn’t want people to see his injured body. In his book One Step at a Time, Bleill shares the story of his own personal redemption and the many life-changing moments he encountered, from his enlistment to active duty in Fallujah, through two years of intensive rehabilitation, and ultimately to his job as the community spokesman for the Indianapolis Colts. Audience members were inspired by his undying enthusiasm, infectious joy, and sense of humor as he shared his message of going forward, one step at a time.
Vikings Coach Beau LaBore said he was proud of the fact that his entire team rushed to Bleill after the presentation to thank him for his service. Bleill was honored by the gesture, but it may have been more fulfilling for his players. “They were able to see that challenges – of all types and degrees – can be met with the same characteristics that they use to be good students, athletes, and people. They learned that these things are within all of us. It is a matter of finding a purpose, making a plan, taking advantage of potential resources, and doing the right thing,” said LaBore.
The numerous character-driven presentations, delivered by the impressive list of prominent individuals, made a strong impression on the participants. Vikings player Brooks Carroll commented on the team blog, “It was a great experience and really emphasized that football lasts for only a small fraction of your life. What you do off the field and in the classroom are what make your life. Football is fun while it lasts, but getting an education and becoming a good person are much more important and are what will make your life.”
The two goals of the NFL HSPD 7-on-7 National Tournament are to identify America’s best high school 7-on-7 team and to inspire elite high school athletes to concentrate on being better individuals off the field. In both cases, the 2014 tournament organizers and participants can say, “Mission Accomplished.”
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