I will admit that at first, when the 7-on-7 all-star teams began to play a few years ago, I wasn’t totally sold on how it would help a majority of the prospects in Miami-Dade and Broward counties.
There was a part of me that felt many football players were being left out, but that has started to change, and after last week’s Central Florida event in Apopka, I see why the months in between the new year and spring football have become so important to high school football players.
Take away the combines, which really tell you little about your football player and more about how fast and strong he is, and you have the 7-on-7 season. It’s played in shorts and a T-shirt, but is still the sport of football, and there are so many things you can see.
With three teams, made up of mostly Miami-Dade and Broward talent, taking part in the event, which included 18 programs from across the state, the South Florida region showed why it is still among the most talented anywhere in the country.
The South Florida Express Pro and Elite teams along with the winner of the event, the South Florida Fire, will join the South Florida Blur and Team Strong Arm in Bradenton at the end of the month for a regional showcase. That gives over 100 rising seniors, juniors and sophomores plenty of offseason exposure.
"We started the 7-on-7 team to help give the elite prospects some big time exposure against the nation’s best," said Brett Goetz, who runs the Express teams. "Now, every player who wants to compete — at any level — has that opportunity. We now have something like 10-12 teams just in our area alone."
With that additional exposure, premier athletes weren’t the only players getting that extra look. Under-the-radar prospects who many never heard much about started to emerge. A big catch, an interception, a pinpoint pass. There was something that one of these less-publicized prospects did to turn someone’s head that finally put them in the recruiting mix.
"These 7-on-7 events show how much football skill level the athletes have," said Charles Fishbein of Elite Scouting Services. "They get out on that field and play five and six games against some of the elite players in the state. There are very few places that you could go and see nearly 200 athletes who can play this game at such a high level."
The Central Florida qualifier for the IMG Bradenton tournament attracted a number of recruiting services, fan websites and a throng of media, who promoted young talent such as Hollywood McArthur freshman quarter Kato Nelson (Offensive MVP) and Lauderdale Lakes Boyd Anderson rising senior defensive back Derrick Tindal (Defensive MVP).
It was one of those showcases that brought in talent from Tallahassee, Tampa, Jacksonville, Orlando, Ocala, Palm Beach and several other pockets of the state.
"The teams from outside of South Florida always want to see how they match up against us," said Fire coach Dennis Marroquin. "When you can win a prestigious event with a freshman quarterback, I would say that is something to hang your hat on."
Here is a look at some of the other players who also turned heads in Apopka:
• 2015 — Maurice Alexander, QB, Homestead, SF Express Elite: Has the chance to be one of the best in his class in the state.
• 2015 — Alex Anderson, RB/LB, Miramar, SF Express Pro: The running back of the future for the Patriots has shown that he can play some defense.
• 2014 — Stanley Barnwell, DB, Miami Monsignor Pace, SF Express Elite: Another of those talented football prospects who has used a strong offseason to thrust himself into the spotlight.
• 2015 — Shawn Burgess-Becker, WR/DB, Coconut Creek Monarch, SF Fire: May be one of the most talented football prospects in the country. Has an Alabama offer.
• 2014 — Juwan Dowels, DB, Davie Western, SF Fire: One of those huge secrets who may end up being one of the best in the class.
• 2014 — Jewison Dawkins, WR, Plantation, SF Express Elite: Because the Colonels do not a pass a lot, it’s been the offseason that has really uncovered this impressive pass catcher.
• 2015 — Rashad Fenton, DB, Miami Norland, SF Express Elite: If you watched the Vikings last season, here is one of those players who made a huge impact as a sophomore. Could be one of the best in South Florida.
2015 - Danarious Graham, QB, Deerfield Beach - SF Express Pro: It’s been two years since we really watched him play, and while he was battling for a starting job back then, he still has one of the strongest throwing arms around. Keep a close eye on him!
2015 - Tavares McFadden, DB, Plantation American Heritage - SF Express Elite: Yet another big time football talent who simply does it all. A very impressive athlete who has the size and physical skills to take over a game. His new head coach Mike Rumph will be great for his maturity.
• 2015 — Devante Phillips, WR, Miami Central, SF Express Pro: You seldom get any of the Rockets to come out and play all-star 7-on-7 events, but it took one game for everyone in Central Florida to see one of the best rising juniors in the country. Huge upside, here.
2014 — Geonte Smith, WR, Miramar, SF Express Elite: While his brother Geno is considered one of the best coming out of college, this is one of those late bloomers who has used this off season to bring out the best in this quality football player.
We are always looking to help promote our area recruits for the current Class of 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017. All you have to do is send a YouTube or Hudl link and information about the athlete to: Larry Blustein at Floridakids1@aol.com.
Follow Larry on Twitter at twitter.com/larryblustein