CARSON, Calif. – Twelve teams from all over the nation competed in pool play Wednesday in the adidas 7-on-7 National Championship Tournament, but it was no surprise the first day of competition was dominated by one of the nation's top quarterback prospects. On a beautiful Southern California day with the Goodyear Blimp hovering overhead, Houston Stratford four-star quarterback Andrew Luck showed why he's one of the nation's highest ranked prospects.
Though Luck was unlucky with some drops throughout the day, he never hung his head or lost his poise. He kept battling and ended up leading his team to the championship round with a thrilling victory over Georgetown, Texas, in overtime 27-26. Incidentally, Georgetown was the team that beat Stratford last weekend in the regional final in College Station.
With the victory over Georgetown and other successful pool victories, Stratford battles Encino (Calif.) Crespi in one semifinal at 10:20 a.m. PST on Thursday. The other 10:20 a.m. semifinal is Miami Gulliver Prep against Pahokee, Fla.
Stratford coach Eliot Allen heaped on the praise for his talented signal-caller.
"Andrew is the best athlete and the best kid I've ever coached," Allen said. "He has great character and is a great student. He's the kind of player that makes everyone on the team better."
Luck's performance made Allen's words ring true. But he wasn't the only player on his team that looked great. Allen also was pleased with the play of receiver Grant Josey. He made several clutch catches throughout the day.
But Luck wasn't the only quarterback that had a good first day in the tournament.
Georgetown also had a talented gunslinger that was very impressive, despite falling to Luck's team in pool play.
Georgetown quarterback Morgan Mickan made great decisions and was very efficient. Lead by Mickan, Georgetown ran a very disciplined offense that didn't make mistakes or crumble under pressure. Mickan, who is Texas bound on baseball scholarship, ran his offense to a tee. He was able to connect time after time with receiver Justin Jacobs, prompting one coach to tell his defense 'if we stop (Jacobs), we will beat them. He's all they got.'
Pahokee, Fla., quarterback Anthony Sheppard also performed well and did a nice job distributing the football to a plethora of athletes on his team. Sheppard ran his team well and had good zip on the ball. Based on Wednesday's play, Pahokee is going to be very tough beat in the championship competition as they didn't drop a game at all in pool play.
Sheppard has a very talented receiver in Martavious Odoms. He caught every pass that was near and was tough to stop. He's a playmaker. Another reason that Pahokee went through the first day undefeated was the play of cornerback Janoris Jenkins. It's obvious why he is getting the serious looks that he's getting. Jackson is the lockdown corner that is coveted by so many teams.
It appears that Plant is creating a tradition of fine quarterback play. Following in the footsteps of incoming Miami freshman signal-caller, four-star Robert Marve, has to be tough. But after watching junior to be quarterback Aaron Murray, Plant should be in good shape. Murray throws a nice ball, and he's accurate. If Murray continues to improve and perform as he did on the opening day then he will be one to watch this season and next.
Like most of the quarterback play on the day he made good decisions and he has the luxury of throwing to Derek Winter.
If Plant advances in the championship round a strong case for Winter to be named MVP can be made. He caught everything in sight, plus he played a lot of minutes on the defensive side of the football. He was even making catches while being double and triple teamed. He still found a way to get open and make a play.
Plant coach Robert Weiner is adamant that he has a great football player in Winter.
"I wouldn't trade my Derek Winter for any player in the state of Florida," Weiner said. "I think he's the best player in the state."
Daytona Beach (Fla.) Seabreeze quarterback Troy Dannehower throws a good deep ball and made several nice connections long, but he struggled some on the day in his short game. That was one of the reasons why Seabreeze didn't qualify for championship pool play. They played a lot of tough games, but just didn't make enough plays for them to advance. Seabreeze's other big playmaker was receiver Leroy Houston. He was a big-time deep threat, and he connected with Dannehower on some long scores.
One of the most surprising teams in the tournament was Miami Gulliver Prep. Gulliver Prep is led by quarterback Doug Papy, and had great chemistry with junior-to-be wide receiver Conner Vernon. Vernon was virtually unstoppable. He made big catch after big catch. He had at least eight touchdowns on the day. He caught him short, and he caught them deep.
Gulliver Prep played inspired all day long and always found a way to get the job done, and if they advance deep into the championship round a good argument for Vernon to be the MVP could be made. Gulliver Prep gets that chance when it faces off against Pahokee.
Talent carries Crespi
The two California schools – Poway and Encino Crespi – had a battle that looked a lot like the Georgetown and Stratford game with the regional loser coming out ahead in the national championship tournament. Crespi upended Poway, the team that beat them two weeks ago to take the regional.
Poway just didn't make the plays on this day that they did two weeks ago. Four-star tight end Ryan Deehan of Poway proved to be mortal, as he dropped a couple of passes, but he more than made up for it with several fine catches. Deehan is the real deal and it is easy to see why he's one of the most sought after tight ends on the West Coast.
But Deehan wasn't enough to stop Crespi this time.
Crespi simply had too many weapons. Led by one of the fastest rising quarterbacks on the west coast Kevin Prince, Crespi made the plays they needed to make for them to advance.
Prince had in his arsenal such playmakers as four-star UCLA-bound safety/running back E.J. Woods, four-star Notre Dame bound tight end Joseph Fauria and underclassmen Kevin Cummings and super sophomore wide receiver Blake Stanton. Prince has been very consistent all summer in 7-on-7 play, and he makes the right throws to the right people in clutch situations.
Prince did his job against Poway, and he also calmly led his team down the field in a tough battle against Tampa Plant. One of his throws –to sleeper receiver David Valencia – was an amazing throw and catch that was about as clutch as it gets.
Woods did the job on both sides of the ball for Crespi breaking up passes, and he had a key interception against Poway that ended up being the backbreaker for the losing squad. Woods also scored a couple of touchdowns on the day from his running back spot.