Redondo Beach, Calif.- After a surprising run to the semifinals in Las Vegas at the NLA Elite 7on7, I.E. Elite came to the IMG/Madden 7on7 West Qualifying Tournament looking to improve on that performance, and at worse, make it to the semifinals again and qualify for the IMG/Madden 7on7 National Championships.
After Day One, they've postured themselves for a nice run in the playoffs. I.E. Elite was 4-0 in Pool Play on Day One, and earned the top seed in the playoff portion of the bracket on Sunday.
A team made up of numerous prospects from the Inland Empire, they represented for the region well, thanks to a big day from quarterback Gage Pucci (La Verne Damien), receiver Jack Austin (Chino Hills), receiver Jordan Villamin (Etiwanda) and running back Jermel Walker (Rancho Cucamonga).
Austin and Villamin were on the receiving end of numerous big throws by Pucci, especially in an early day rout of the Frat Boyz, where Austin had two touchdowns and just missed a third, after an acrobatic catch in the backside of the end zone was ruled out-of-bounds. While Pucci is a bit undersized, he's got a good arm and is extremely accurate. On the other hand, Villamin and Austin are both big, rangy targets who have sticky hands.
But the star for I.E. Elite was on defense in Upland (Calif.) cornerback Delvin Batiste. One of the breakout performers at the NLA Elite 7on7, Batiste had three picks in pool play, a couple where he made nice adjustments to thrown passes, and another where he perfectly jumped a route on a pass from Troy Williams.
Meanwhile, the two traditional powers on the 7on7 circuit, B2G and 1925, scuffled along to 2-2 records in pool play. Both teams were missing key players for a myriad of reasons, B2G without five-star safety Priest Willis and three-star receiver Drew Wolitarsky and 1925 missing three four-star receivers in Francis Owusu, Steven Mitchell and John Ross as well as safety Tyler Foreman, their anchor in the secondary.
Both teams started slowly and couldn't seem to get in a groove, but both should be bolstered on Sunday by the return of key players. The downside? The two teams will face each other in the first round of the playoffs, with the winners potentially facing I.E. Elite in the second round.
For 1925, four-star quarterback Troy Williams started the day off well, but had a rough third game before bouncing back with a much better performance in the final pool play game of the day. Jabrian Blackwell from Encino (Calif.) Crespi made noise in Vegas as a receiver, but switched to defense this weekend and had a couple of interceptions.
For B2G, Chris Hawkins and Tahaan Goodman had good days, but the standout for them was Iman Marshall, the 2015 safety from Long Beach (Calif.) Poly, who may be the best freshman performer we've seen all spring.
The other semifinalist in Vegas, 4th Quarter Sports, had a rough go of things on day one, though quarterback Jihad Vercher looked superb when he was taking the primary snaps.
One of the more surprising teams was Alliance Blue, who went 4-0 and earned the second seed in the playoffs. Quarterback Josh Rosen, a 2015 prospect, was excellent all day and helped Alliance to an unbeaten start to the day.
The Frat Boyz looked out of sorts in Game One, and lost handily, but rallied to go 3-1 on the day, thanks to good days by five-star Su'a Cravens, who had a couple of big interceptions, and more comfort at the quarterback position by Andrew Elffers. The surprise was Chris Strong from Fontana (Calif.) Summit.
Impulse 55 Elite, coached by former All-Pro linebacker Willie McGinest and made up of a number of Long Beach Poly players (where he played), also had a good showing on Day One, going 3-1 and earning the fourth seed.
Another surprise on the day was Team 808 from Nevada and Utah. In fact, arguably the top performer on Day One was Las Vegas (Nev.) Bishop Gorman safety Nathan Starks, who had at least five interceptions and then a couple more touchdowns offensively. Starks, a 2014 prospect, has tremendous ball skills and instincts and great athleticism in adjusting to the ball, whether playing offense or defense. Quarterback Danny Hong, a 2015 prospect from Bishop Gorman, also was steady throughout. One of the standouts in Las Vegas was Uaea Masina from Salt Lake City (Utah) Brighton, who helped Utah win the title, and this time, playing with Team 808, he made a number of plays defensively.
They'll face "Those Guys" from Arizona in their first playoffs, and while they struggled overall, 2014 receiver Jalen Brown, who's still nursing a minor leg injury, looked fine and has excellent hands and is a very good route-runner. He'll just need to add some weight. Jake Roh from Scottsdale (Ariz.) Chaparral also stood out for Those Guys.
Day Two kicks off at 9 a.m. with the tournament playoff bracket, and the top four teams qualifying for the IMG/Madden 7on7 National Tournament in Bradenton, Fla., in June.