Bradenton, Fla. - The South Florida Express is the most notable 7v7 in the country. But it was another team that won the title from that part of the Sunshine State, as the Florida Fire dominated the weekend and won the IMG National 7v7 National Tournament.
"It was a great effort from our kids," said Dennis Marroquin, the team's coach. "They believed. They were hungry. We have the talent and it took all 24 guys on the roster. As a group, we won. We are the champs."
Florida Fire didn't just win this event, they dominated, going 14-0 over the weekend in pool play and then tournament play. To win the championship, they beat a very talented team from Tampa, the Unsigned Preps.
Fire quarterback Kato Nelson (Hialeah Champagnat Catholic) was efficient and proficient throughout the tournament. This rising junior was brilliant, where at times he distributed the ball to his playmakers on short routes and then would go long ball and hit targets like Calvin Ridley (Coconut Creek Monarch) deep and in stride. Wide receiver Shawn Burgess-Becker (Coconut Creek Monarch) made his share of plays, as did Jovan Durante (Miami Norland) and several others. It was a great performance from the Fire.
"This means a lot," Marroquin said. "People have to understand that 7-on-7 is great for these kids. They are playing football and getting exposure. I know it's been great for our kids."
Florida Fire narrowly edged Unsigned Preps in their first encounter. They won 20-18 and the difference was the final play of the game, where they stopped Unsigned Preps on 3rd down with no time left. That stop gave them two-points, broke the 18-all tie and gave the Fire a two-point win. Along the way they secured a birth in the title game. They would play the winner of Michigan Elite or Unsigned Preps again.
Michigan Elite had quite the impressive tournament. They played with only ten players and to make it that far against this competition in the heat and humidity where teams and players were wilting before our very eyes was extraordinary. The Michigan Elite finished third after losing to Unsigned Preps in the loser's bracket. That victory pushed the Unsigned Preps to the title game but they couldn't get by the Fire, losing 34-20.
BBT out of the Los Angeles area of California finished fourth. They were led by quarterback K.J. Costello (Santa Margarita, Calif.) and wide receiver/safety Tyler Vaughns (La Puenete Bishop Amat). Those two players had outstanding tournaments..
A little help please…
From start to finish BBT from California was never on the same playing field as most of the other teams at this event. There were 35 teams in all at IMG, most of which had rosters of 20 plus. Not BBT. Like the Michigan Elite, they came down with only 10 players.
Toward the end of the event they enlisted some help. South Florida Express was disqualified very early on Sunday so a trio of their players volunteered to play for this team from California in wide receiver Dionte Mullins (Miami Gulliver Prep), safeties Cedric Wright (Miami Gulliver Prep) and Antonyo Sotolongo (Miami Gulliver Prep). They did provide a boost, especially Mullins. In their knockout loss versus the Michigan State, he caught a beautiful scoring long ball from Costello.
"It was a lot of fun to play with those guys and help them out," Mullins said. "We really enjoyed it. They are some good players and we were just happy to do it."
IMG QB down to three
IMG's starting quarterback for their own football team is recent transfer Deondre Francois. He recently visited the Auburn Tigers and that trip to changed everything for the state's No. 1 quarterback prospect.
"I just loved the environment at Auburn," Francois said. "The coaching staff is terrific. They made me feel like a 2014 guy when I know I am a 2015 guy. Plus the offense is made for me.
Francois, a four-star recruit, will camp at FSU next month and he hopes to visit Oregon in July. He will be out there for the Opening. Francois's plan is to make his commitment at the end of next month.
Chase names four
Tavares Chase (Plant City, Fla.) continues to have a monster spring and summer. He had a great few weeks in May, racking up a bunch of scholarship offers. This 2016 wide receiver now has 20 plus. His most recent is from Auburn.
"That was a big one for me," Chase said. "But I am trying to remain humble. That is what my father is always preaching to me.
In the meantime, Chase is hoping for at least one more and it would be from his dream school.
"I just love Florida State," Chase said. "They are my childhood favorite and my dream school. They haven't offered me yet. And that's okay. I am camping there next month and I want to earn it. I have talked with coach (Lawrence) Dawsey and they just want to see me at their camp."
If things don't work out that way with Chase and the Seminoles. He has another set of schools in his sight.
"Right now I have four schools," Chase said. "I also like Clemson, Miami and Florida."
He didn't play all that much but when he did Shea Patterson (Shreveport, La./Calvary Baptist) was as impressive as any prospect at this event. This rising junior signal caller from the Bayou State is a gun slinger. He reminds me of Aaron Murray at the same stage. Patterson has super arm talent and can throw receivers open. He can spin that ball through tight windows and puts the throw exactly where it needs to go.
Patterson, almost 6-foot-2, 195-pounds, has been a long time commit to Arizona. But he recently visited Oklahoma State and Texas and has offers from teams like Alabama, Baylor, Auburn, Notre Dame and Michigan.
"I absolutely loved Oklahoma State," Patterson said. "The facilities were incredible and I really like the coaching staff. It was great to get to Texas and meet with Coach [Charlie] Strong and some of his staff. I really like those guys.
"I am still committed to Arizona. But I want to see what's out there and find the school that's the best fit for me."
If this kid is that good then why isn't LSU on him? That's a good question but the Tigers have already committed a quarterback in the 2016 in Crawfordville (Fla.) Wakulla signal caller Feleipe Franks.
Speaking of quarterbacks
I don't know if I can recall an IMG event with the quarterback play like we saw this weekend. Patterson was outstanding but only played in about two and a half games. Nelson led the Florida Fire to the title while Costello was probably the best overall prospect at this position at this event. Michigan Elite was led by rising junior quarterback Jacob Baldwin (Grand Ledge, Mich.) with Unsigned Preps was led by Chris Oldokun (Tampa Alonso). They are all 2016 kids.
Arizona State bound quarterback Brady White (Newhall, Calif./Hart ) had his moments, showing why he's one of the better signal caller from the West Coast. He spins the ball so well and when he's on White is pretty to watch. He makes throwing the football look easy.
River City Kings quarterback DeAndre Johnson (Jackonville First Coast) was an efficient machine throughout the two days. I love the way he has progressed from season to season. The same can be said for Francois, who recently transferred from Orlando Olympia to IMG and now working with former Heisman Trophy winner Chris Weinke. You can already see his improvement.
It certainly makes watching and covering an event like this when you get good quarterback play. This weekend's play here was very good.
There was a ton of trash talking between the North Carolina Elite and Rat Pak. The ring leader was rising junior Chauncey Gardner (Cocoa, Fla.). His mouth runs a mile a minute.
This University of Florida commitment in the 2016 class challenged University of North Carolina commitment Carl Tucker (Cornelius, N.C./Hough) after the heated game. They went one on one, where Tucker ran a fade route. While in coverage, Gardner lost his footing and slipped, allowing Tucker to catch the pass. Gardner was embarrassed and ate a bunch of crow after this one. But it was just kids having fun.
Hands down, one of the best performances over the two days was from River City Kings wide receiver D.J. Matthews (Jacksonville First Coast). He's a rising sophomore in the 2017 class that is an absolutely sensational football player.
Matthews made plays in every game on both days. He made guys miss in space, showcasing his phenomenal short area quickness. He outran defenders, show casing his outstanding speed. He made acrobatic and one handed catches look easy. His ball skills are just superb. This kid plays like no freshman.
Matthews, 5-foot-10, 170-pounds, has a chance to really be something special down the line. His upside is incredibly high.
This was an encore for Matthews. He did the same thing and had a super Southeast Regional tournament here at IMG back in March.<
2016 running back Tavein Feaster (Spartanburg, S.C.) is one of the top running backs in the 2016 class. Feaster, 6-foot-0, 192-pounds, says he has one standout team right now.
"Clemson is my team. They are my No. 1 school," Feaster said. "They have recruited me the hardest and they are showing me the most love. But I know it's early and anything can happen."
Feaster is a four-star prospect and the No. 2 running back in the next class. He picked up an Auburn offer on Thursday. Alabama, Florida State, Florida, Georgia and several others have offered him as well. He plans on visiting Auburn and Alabama next month.