By Chris Hendrickson, Monitor
Monroe High School’s 7-on-7 football team, representing the Seattle Seahawks, returned from the National Football League’s High School Player Development tournament on Sunday. They may not have brought home the championship, but they definitely came home winners.
The yearly HSPD tournament, which began in 2007, is sponsored by the NFL in partnership with the National Guard. The participating 7-on-7 football teams battled it out in regional tournaments across the nation to win the honor of representing their area’s National Football League team in the championships. All 32 NFL teams were represented this year at the national tournament in Cleveland, Ohio. The tournament focused on both athletic ability and personal enrichment.
“I have been around high school athletics for a number of years and I can’t remember a better environment or venue for high school athletes to show their talents, bond with their teammates, and learn real life lessons from professional athletes and professional soldiers,” said Monroe Bearcats Assistant Coach Edd Pratt.
The Monroe 7-on-7 team, after wining the right to represent the Seahawks in a local tournament, traveled late Wednesday night to Ohio for the all-expenses-paid tournament. Once there, the team received a plethora of complimentary official Nike gear. Players each received cleats, socks, shorts, hoodies, jerseys adorned with the Seattle Seahawks logo, and more.
All travel expenses, lodging, meals and gear were provided for the team through the tournament.
Upon arrival in Cleveland, Monroe’s 12-player team and 2-person coaching staff became officially known as the Seahawks.
Pooling games, which are utilized to assess the individual skill level of the teams, began on Friday. The Seahawks ended the day with a 4-1 record, winning against the Arizona Cardinals, 27-21; the St. Louis Rams, 34-28; the San Francisco 49ers, 41-21; and the Oakland Raiders, 24-21. Their single loss was against the Denver Broncos, 20-30.
Saturday morning began with the final two pooling games. The Seahawks prevailed in their first game against the San Diego Chargers, winning 31-21. They lost the next game against the Kansas City Chiefs, which ended their pooling series with a 5-2 record.
Monroe’s Seahawks team was seeded as the number one team in the NFC West Division going into the championships.
The single-elimination championship series started off with a Seahawks win, as they defeated the San Francisco 49ers, 27-14. They moved on to play against the St. Louis Rams, losing the game in the final two minutes as a tipped pass was intercepted.
In 7-on-7 football, interceptions count for three points, which brought the final score to 17-14, Rams.
The game of 7-on-7 is a non-contact abbreviated form of football, played with seven players on the field at one time. The quarterback must pass the ball; running plays are not allowed. Touchdowns are worth seven points, and there is no extra point. The playing field is roughly half the size of a regular football field, with a 10-yard end zone. Games last for 20 minutes and have a three minute halftime.
Each participating team at the national tournament was allowed 12 players and two coaches.
The weekend was interspersed with dinners, presentations and speakers designed to inspire players and fulfill the character development aspect of the HSPD program. Each player was required to complete a character development curriculum prior to becoming eligible to compete in the national tournament, and this curriculum was expanded on throughout the weekend.
Topics presented to the teens included leadership, and other character development lessons including a particularly poignant discussion on the utilization of social media.
One of Friday night’s speakers was former NFL player Antonio Freeman of the Green Bay Packers, who gave a presentation in which he discussed things like the importance of goal setting and getting a good education. Freeman was a wide receiver whose career included such highlights as being responsible for one of the most famous plays ever to occur during a Monday night football game, and playing in the 1997 Super Bowl when the Packers took on the New England Patriots.
Freeman was instrumental in the Packers’ Super Bowl win, catching what was then a record-setting 81-yard touchdown pass from Brett Favre and putting them in the lead for good.
Former Seattle Seahawk wide receiver Paul Johns worked with the Monroe team over the weekend and had a lot of positive feedback in regards to the players and their character, both during games and also at the group dinners and presentations, said Edd Pratt.
The Washington National Guard posted continuous updates on Monroe’s progress throughout the tournament via their local Facebook page, as did many Bearcat team supporters and parents.
“Monroe High School gave an excellent account of themselves. Their character was well-reflected on and off the field as individual players and as a team,” said the Washington National Guard’s Facebook status on Saturday afternoon. “The city of Monroe and the state of Washington were well-represented by this group of fine young men.”
The Monroe 7-on-7 team finished 11th out of 32 teams.
This year’s winning team was the Detroit Lions who won against the Miami Dolphins. The Dolphins previously held the championship title four years in a row.
A previous version of the Seahawks won the championship in 2008.
For the 12 Monroe Bearcat players, the national tournament was an event not to be soon forgotten.
“Every one of our kids commented on how lucky they felt to be a part of it and their only regret was that more of their teammates couldn’t be with them,” said Pratt.
“Well that, and not winning the championship.”