The day's blazing temperature perfectly set up the heated action that took place at the Carolina Panthers fourth annual 7-on-7 Passing Tournament at the team's practice facility at Bank of America Stadium on June 20. Six high schools from North and South Carolina vied for this year's championship and the opportunity to represent the Carolinas at the NFL's national 7-on-7 tournament in Minneapolis, Minn., July 9-12.
The teams included the defending 7-on-7 champion Dorman Cavaliers (Roebuck, S.C.), Independence Patriots (Charlotte, N.C.), Marlboro County Bulldogs (Bennettsville, S.C.), Reidsville Rams (Reidsville, N.C.), South Pointe Stallions (Rock Hill, S.C.) and West Rowan Falcons (Mt. Ulla, N.C.).
The action featured spectacular athletic displays and circus catches as teams gave their all to capture the 7-on-7 trophy. Three of the teams won their respective state championships in 2008, while the others made deep runs in the state playoffs, setting up some great matchups.
"The competition was great, and that's what you're looking for," Dorman head coach Dave Gutshall said. "It's a great atmosphere and it's just a good situation for us."
The teams played a round-robin format with each school guaranteed at least four games. When not playing, the players participated in a life skills forum led by Daryl Thomas, the regional director for the NFL's High School Player Development (H.S.P.D.) program. Players learned more about helpful life skills such as attitude, image, motivation, perception, positive thinking and time management. Each player also received an NFL H.S.P.D. planner to further utilize the life skills forum topics they learned.
Players not only received instruction off the field but on the field as well. Fifteen Panthers provided tips, advice and encouragement. The players included wide receiver Larry Beavers, tight end Kevin Brock, quarterback Hunter Cantwell, wide receiver Jason Chery, safety Paul Chiara, linebacker Anthony Heygood, linebacker Mortty Ivy, linebacker Mike Juergens, running back Jamall Lee, cornerback Sherrod Martin, running back Markus Manson, linebacker Brit Miller, safety Anthony Scirrotto, cornerback Reggie Sullivan and safety Quinton Teal.
"They talked to us and kept motivating us and telling us to play harder," said Dorman quarterback and wide receiver Johnny Foster.
At the end of the round-robin play, Dorman had earned the top seed with a 3-1 record. The second through fifth seeds saw a logjam of teams with 2-2 records, which forced a tiebreaker based on total points scored during the tournament. Reidsville, West Rowan, and Independence joined Dorman in the semifinal round, earning the second, third and fourth seeds, respectively.
In the semifinals, Independence topped Dorman, 25-23 in a tightly contested rematch of earlier action where Independence had also beaten Dorman. In the other semi-final matchup, West Rowan defeated Reidsville, 23-11, earning them a spot in the finals versus Independence. The Patriots proved to be too much for the Falcons as they exploded for 30 points on their way to a 30-7 win and the Carolina Panthers 7-on-7 Passing Tournament title.
"The Carolina Panthers are huge fans of high school football, and it means a great deal to the organization to be able to provide this opportunity for high school football teams from across the region," said Carolina Panthers Director of Community Relations Riley Fields. "The goal of the event is to provide teams with a top-notch competitive experience, along with a good coaching and teaching opportunity for the high school coaching staffs. We also enjoy giving high school players the chance to benefit from the experience and knowledge of our own players and the NFL H.S.P.D. staff."