Devonta Freeman and Steadman Bailey are only a few years removed from competing on South Florida football fields as standout high school players with big aspirations.
On Saturday, they took the opportunity with three other up-and-coming NFL players to interact with the current crop of young men trying to improve their games during the Nike Football Festival 7-on-7 tournament at the campuses of Ransom Everglades High School and Middle School in Miami.
Freeman — a Miami Central standout and running back at Florida State during the Seminoles’ national championship last season — quickly embraced his former coaches who are still with the program while also greeting current Rockets players such as star wide receiver Da’Vante Phillips and FSU cornerback commit Calvin Brewton.
“[Freeman] was a guy in this program that did these types of events,” Central coach Roland Smith said of the Atlanta Falcons rookie. “And he’s out here supporting these kids, and they love it.”
Smith said Freeman’s success at FSU was a major factor why running back Dalvin Cook committed to play for the Seminoles during the 2014 recruiting cycle. Phillips, who is close friends with Cook, is a target high on FSU’s list for its 2015 class.
“It’s always good when you have your former alumni come back and talk to the kids,” Smith said. “They see it as a way out.”
Freeman and Bailey, a St. Louis Rams receiver who attended Miramar High, were joined by former University of Miami wide receiver Travis Benjamin (Cleveland Browns), former Miami Northwestern linebacker Lavonte David (Tampa Bay Buccaneers) and Denver Broncos safety Rahim Moore, who is from Los Angeles and played at UCLA.
Moore — who played in the Super Bowl last season — took a few minutes to bond with players from Oxbridge Academy of the Palm Beaches, the only school outside of Broward and Miami-Dade counties participating,
“He was talking about staying humble,” incoming Oxbridge freshman Herman McCray said. “It’s going to be a hard grind getting to the NFL, but just keep an open mind and just play.”
Pembroke Pines Flanagan offensive coordinator Tyrell Conyers, who was a coach at Miramar during Bailey’s time at the school, said the younger players appreciate the reminder that the NFL players have been in their same situations before.
Conyers — and every other coach fortunate enough to help his/her players become successful in college and beyond — relishes the chances to reconnect when those players return.
“I tell people that’s what I do it for,” Conyers said. “To see the kids come back, see them play on Saturdays and now some on Sundays. That’s what it’s all about for me in coaching: To see these young men become men.”
In the competition, Miami Booker T. Washington added another 7-on-7 crown, beating Flanagan 25-12 in the championship round behind four touchdowns from FIU quarterback commit Maurice Alexander. The Tornadoes also won the Miami Dolphins’ title on June 15.
At Amelia Earhart Park, Miami Carol City edged Hialeah Champagnat Catholic 35-34 in overtime to win the PreGameMeals 7-on-7 tournament. Both competitions were sponsored by the Tournament of Champions Inc.
In another event, Coach Mac’s Football 101 7-on-7 tournament at Pompano Community Park in Pompano Beach, Monarch beat Coconut Creek 12-7 for the title.