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Tournament Timeby: AFM Editorial Staff
© July 2012
This month, hundreds of young athletes representing all 32 NFL teams will converge in Indianapolis for the NFL High School Player Development National 7-on-7 Tournament presented by the National Guard.
7-on-7. The name evokes highly-skilled athletes, pinpoint passing attacks, and non-stop action.
In the last decade, there has been an explosion of high school 7-on-7 events during the summer months. Most of these competitions feature elite skill position players honing their games in preparation for the upcoming season. In fact, 7-on-7 events have become so popular that over 80% of all high school programs participate in 7-on-7 as a way to give their skill position players a competitive experience and sharpen their passing games.
One of the largest, most successful, and most competitive 7-on-7 programs in America is the NFL High School Player Development National 7-on-7 Tournament presented by the National Guard. Now in its ninth year, the NFL HSPD 7-on-7 competition is nationwide in scope – giving talented athletes all over the country an opportunity to participate in what has become the most high-profile tournament anywhere.
The first stage in the program occurs at the NFL HSPD camps, which are conducted at over 200 sites across the country and free to all high school athletes. Besides football skills development, a major part of the HSPD curriculum is the character development session, where athletes learn how to be more successful in the classroom, in the community, and at home. For any athlete who wishes to compete in the HSPD 7-on-7 tournament, completion of the character development session is a requirement. The last block of each HSPD camp is devoted to 7-on-7 sessions. This segment gives coaches a good indication of the skill players that they may want to include on a 7-on-7 team to compete at the next level.
Qualifying begins in earnest at regional tournaments hosted by many of the 32 NFL teams. There, teams consisting of 12 players and two coaches vie for the right to advance to the national tournament, representing their NFL team. In keeping with the HSPD’s emphasis on character development, if there are any athletes in the regional tournaments that have not participated in an HSPD camp, they are provided with the character development materials and instruction. Teams advancing to the National Tournament are either squads representing their high schools or “all-star” teams of players that attended HSPD camps in the area.
The competition at the regional tournaments is intense, primarily because the rewards for the winners are so great. Winning teams have the pride of representing their local NFL teams and they receive an all-expense paid trip to the HSPD National 7-on-7 Tournament, which for many athletes will be the experience of a lifetime. The 4-day, 3-night event not only features spirited competition between some of the most talented 7-on-7 teams in the country, it also includes a variety of guest speakers and activities that help make the event far more than a football tournament.
As is the case with all HSPD events and activities, emphasis is placed on developing the character of young athletes in addition to showcasing their football skills. In previous National 7-on-7 Tournaments, participants have been treated to guest speakers such as University of Connecticut Head Coach Paul Pasqualoni, who stressed the importance of character throughout the recruiting process at last year’s tournament. In other years, athletes have taken part in activities that have had a positive impact in the community. At the 2010 tournament in Tampa, participants and coaches traveled to the Armed Forces Reserve Center to make care packages for the 3,000 Florida National Guard members working a Federal mission in Iraq.
“By adding character development activities into the HSPD National 7-on-7 Tournament, we provide athletes from all over the country with an experience that, we hope, will help them become outstanding individuals as well as outstanding football players,” said Jerry Horowitz, the NFL’s Director of HSPD. “It’s part of what makes the HSPD tournament different from all others.”
Other aspects of the HSPD National 7-on-7 Tournament that make it unique are the venues where it is held – facilities of NFL teams. Not only do the 7-on-7 athletes get to spend time where NFL players practice and play, but they often get the opportunity to meet and interact with players, coaches and other team representatives. “In 2009, Vikings owner Mark Wilf, Head Coach Brad Childress and Pro Bowl running back Adrian Peterson were guest speakers in Minneapolis. They were a big hit with the participants and coaches,” recalled Horowitz. Last year, when the Cleveland Browns hosted the tournament, the semi-final and final games of the single elimination tournament took place inside Cleveland Browns Stadium.
As you would expect of skilled athletes from all over the country that have gone through the rigorous qualifying process to advance to the National Tournament, the level of play is very high. In fact, don’t be surprised if some of 2012’s players advance to careers in the NFL as previous 7-on-7 participants Cam Newton, Vontae Davis, and Arrelious Benn all have.
This year’s HSPD National 7-on-7 Tournament will be held in Indianapolis – hosted by the Colts. Hundreds of talented skill position athletes and their coaches, representing all 32 NFL teams, will gather July 12-15 for two days of competition, dinner functions, character development sessions and tours. One highlight is certain to be Friday night’s visit to the NCAA Hall of Champions and tour of Lucas Oil Stadium.
So, while many 7-on-7 tournaments feature elite athletes and thrilling competition, no other event can match the complete experience provided by the NFL’s HSPD National 7-on-7 Tournament presented by the National Guard. With every passing year, it continues to get bigger and better – providing talented athletes and their coaches with thrilling memories that will last a lifetime. p
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