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The IMG Madden 7-on-7 Football National Championships will host the best prep players from all the country's hotbeds: Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, Fort Wayne, etc.
Yes, Fort Wayne.
AWP Sports Performance will be “representing the 260” as the kids like to say, showing the big-city boys that there's more than corn and basketball in Indiana. The championships are Saturday and Sunday in Bradenton, Fla.
“It's a big honor to go down there and compete nationally,” Homestead wide receiver Isaac Griffith said. “Not only to put AWP on the map, but the state of Indiana as well as the city of Fort Wayne.”
Griffith, who recently committed to play football at Indiana University, is part of a diverse AWP team that earned a trip to the national championship after winning a Midwest qualifier. The team represents AWP (Athletes With Purpose) and is sponsored by Baltimore Ravens safety Bernard Pollard, whose career started in Fort Wayne.
“It's a great opportunity to go out and compete against some of the best guys in the nation, guys already committed to great schools like the Big Ten, SEC, places like that,” Concordia quarterback David Morrison said. “I know playing with great players and great competition has helped me develop my skills.”
The AWP team includes some of the area's top players, including Notre Dame commit Jaylon Smith of Bishop Luers, Kendrick Mullen of Bishop Luers and Jared Murphy of Columbia City. While a lot of attention has been given to Smith, one of the country's best players, it was Murphy who earned the most valuable player award at their last competition.
AWP founder Michael Ledo leads a coaching staff that uses a platoon system of offensive and defensive players. For those unfamiliar with 7-on-7, the games feature the “skill” positions without offensive and defensive linemen. AWP will take 22 players to Bradenton.
Mullen, for example, is a defensive back who usually faces much taller wide receivers with nearly the same amount of speed.
“It's really exciting to be on that national stage,” Mullen said. “It has really increased our level of play, to match the other guys they've got down there. All our guys know what's at stake here and what we can do to put our city as well as our state on the map.”
Competition will be fierce in Bradenton. There will be seven Florida teams, five Atlanta teams, three California teams, two Detroit teams, two Knoxville, Tenn., teams and teams from New Orleans and Chicago.
“The talent level is definitely raised from Friday night lights,” Bishop Dwenger linebacker D'Marcus Moon said. “We're facing people all over the country with a different speed level.”
Chemistry on the AWP team is strong, the players say. Many of these players are competing against each other during the regular season, but they have bonded well during training and time playing on the field.
“We just love competing, first and foremost,” Moon said. “We love the game, each and every one of us, and we've got great coaches teaching us and helping us in all aspects, not just football, but mentally and physically.”
Mullen has been part of the AWP 7-on-7 team for three years, and played in the national championship tournament the first year. He'll try to help ease any nerves before the team starts play on Saturday.
The event also includes the Cam Newton Skills Challenge before team competition.
“If we play our type of football,” Mullen said, “there's nobody that can really stop us.”