BRADENTON - Miami’s Florida Fire was crowned as the national champions after upending Tampa, Fla.’s Unsigned Preps, 20-18, and going a perfect 9-0 (4-0 pool play, 5-0 tournament) during the fourth-annual IMG7v7 National Championship held at IMG Academy, Jun. 20-22. The Fire were led by a high-powered scoring assault orchestrated by QB Kato Nelson (Champagnaut Catholic School/Hialeah) and star-studded Alabama-commits Calvin Ridley (Monarch HS/Coconut Creek) and Shawn Burgess-Becker (Monarch HS/Coconut Creek), and according to Head Coach Dennis Marroquin, the team was eager to prove itself as the nation’s best.
“The kids were very hungry and it goes all the way back to our tryouts,” said Marroquin. “The kids knew that to get the respect they deserved, they had to go out there and win... to win against this level of competition and that are known nationally known, we earned this.”
Unsigned Preps were vying to keep the National Championship in Tampa, after back-to-back champion Team Tampa was eliminated earlier in the day. Unsigned Preps featured an opposing wide receiver trip comprised of Deon Cain (Tampa Bay Tech/Tampa, Fla.), Nate Craig (Tampa Bay Tech/Tampa, Fla.) and Ray Ray McCloud (Sickles HS/Tampa, Fla.).
However, the biggest movers on the day were the Detroit-based Michigan Elite. The Michigan Elite entered the day as the #32-seed after coming up shy in each of their four pool play games. It was a total team effort spearheaded by superb QB play from Jacob Baldwin (Grand Ledge HS/Grand Ledge, Mich.) and ATH Sean Bunting (Chippewa Valley HS/McComb Heights, Mich.) and excellent play on both sides of the ball from ATH , that allowed the team to rally on Sunday for a third-place finish.
“We weren’t surprised how things went today – we started off pool play a little slow, but we were close in every game yesterday so we knew we could win,” remarked Michigan Elite Head Coach Ron Rice. “I don’t know what happened over night, I don’t know what they had for breakfast, but everything started clicking… It was a long trip, but the guys had a great time, but very well worth – they played a lot and learned a lot.”
Meanwhile, the Future STARS division ended with a south Florida matchup between Ft. Lauderdale’s Adrenaline Rush and Miami’s Red Zone Elite. A year ago, the Adrenaline Rush were one errant pass away from reaching the finals, but this year, closed the gap and won it all after taking down Red Zone Elite.
“This year, we re-tooled and knew more of what to expect and our kids did their job and earned the title,” said Adrenaline Rush Head Coach Jerry Scalzo. “Our players held their own here against some of the best competition from around the country at some of the best facilities in the nation and got to size up against other players – it was great.”
At the end of the day, the top-four teams at the IMG7v7 National Championship, in order, were 1. Florida Fire, 2. Unsigned Preps, 3. Michigan Elite and 4. BBT Athletics (Los Angeles, Calif.).