With the school year over and spring football out of the way, high school teams across the country get a chance to build chemistry and camaraderie during the summer.
Winning adds to the joy, too.
Miami schools Booker T. Washington, Gulliver Prep, Columbus and Southridge, along with Fort Lauderdale Dillard and Riviera Beach Suncoast all advanced Saturday at Plantation Park to the final day of the Miami Dolphins 7-on-7 tournament.
Booker T. and Southridge get a bye to the semifinals as Gulliver Prep will face Suncoast, and Columbus plays Dillard on Sunday at Sun Life Stadium at 9 a.m. At stake: a chance to represent the Dolphins in the 2014 HSPD National Championships in Indianapolis on July 14 and 15.
For Booker T., the two-time defending Class 4A state champions and mythical high school national champion, the 7-on-7 competitions provides a measuring stick on the progress the team is making under new head coach Tim Harris Jr.
Harris has taken over after his father, Tim “Ice” Harris, became assistant director of football operations at the University of Miami in March. He is also working with a new quarterback – Maurice Alexander from Homestead and a FIU commit as of Friday — to replace his brother Treon, a University of Florida signee.
“It’s still [an] every day [process],” Harris said. “I know you come out here and watch us play and we’re playing well, but there’s still a lot of things that we’re still continuing to take care of in-house to make sure we can make another run.”
For the majority of the 47 schools participating, the Dolphins tournament is a stop on a busy schedule which also includes tours and camps at colleges across the country.
Miami Carol City coach Aubrey Hill said he’s taken his players to USF, FAU, UCF, FIU and UM in recent weeks to get them some exposure to different places.
“We get in a van, and I’m driving or another coach is driving,” Hill said, “and [the players are] in the back with their headphones on, laughing and joking. What we’re trying to do is show them what they need academically, and give them a snapshot of how it is to be a student athlete.”
Gulliver Prep assistant Jorge Baez has a lengthy college tour ahead of him and his players with stops to Tulane, LSU, Alabama, Ole Miss, Clemson, South Carolina, North Carolina, N.C. State, Duke, Wake Forest, and Appalachian State in the coming weeks. If possible, he’d like to stop at UF and Ohio State as well.
“According to NCAA rules there’s a cost to it,” Baez said, “but we’re going to make it worth for those kids.”
The hardest part about raising money to pay for camps fees at the schools, a capable vehicle and lodging? Baez said it’s keeping his players fed so they can perform at their best in front of prospective college coaches.
“I don’t want to be on the road with a bunch of hungry kids,” Baez said. That’s the main thing. I told parents I’m not going to be on the road unless we have money to fund it.
“We want to make sure they’re fed the whole way through.”
Hialeah Gardens Mater Academy coach Javier Vazquez and assistant Rainier Perez said their team raised more than $10,000 in the spring to fund a trip to smaller schools in the college football spectrum including Appalachian State, Samford, Tennessee State, Georgia Southern, and East Tennessee.
Vazquez, in his second year at the school and 13th coaching overall, said he even purchased a van for his team’s rising program, which saw coaches from more than 40 schools visit during the spring.
“We showed those coaches if you come show us love, we’ll put our kids in front of you to evaluate them,” Vazquez said. “And if they’re good enough to play for you, then it’s a great opportunity.”
In the end, the benefits of participating in 7-on-7 camps locally and across the country outweigh the costs by far — even if a coach has to pay a little money out of his/her own pocket.
“I don’t mind,” Baez said. “It’s part of the business. Some kids need it. We just got to someway, somehow make it happen.”