Team Maryland 1, 2 and 3 represented well at the third annual Badger Sports New Level Athletic, North East Regional Elite 7-on-7 Skills Showcase at Rutgers University over the weekend.
All three Maryland teams finished the first day of competition (Saturday) with identical 3-1 records and a high seeding going into the single-elimination round on Sunday.
But Maryland Team 2, led by Damascus quarterback Connor Frazier, rose to the occasion and won the championship over an undefeated Connecticut team in a blowout. This marked the second time in the event's three-year history that a team from Maryland won the championship.
Along with third-place winner Maryland Team 1, these two teams will head to the national championship game, which will be held at the University of Alabama over the fourth of July weekend. The top three teams from five different regions compete for the national championship.
"We came in here to earn a trip Alabama," said Thomas Johnson assistant coach Darrick Scott, the New Level Athletic point-man and organizer of Team Maryland. "This is an event to get kids who desire to play college football a chance to get exposure. We had a lot of support from people around the state. Governor Martin O'Malley's office gave us a state flag and citation with the state seal and guys like Calvert Hall head coach Don Davis let us use their facilities to practice. It was a joint effort and we are extremely proud of these kids."
Last weekend's event was filled with star-studded athletes from across the northeast. Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maine, Vermont, and Delaware sent the best their state had to offer. Many of the prospects who were in attendance held Division-I offers; the ones who didn't sought exposure in hopes of landing a coveted scholarship.
In 2008, the team made up of Tavon Austin (Dunbar), Malik Redd (River Hill), Michael Camparno (River Hill), D.J. Scott (Thomas Johnson) and Nick Forbes (TJ) won the entire tournament. Last year's team led by Billy Cosh (Arundel), R.J Harris (Arundel),Devonta Tabannah (Potomac) and Marquis Woodyard (TJ) advanced to the final four before being eliminated.
This year's 2010 Showcase featured two Maryland teams advancing to the final four - Team 1 and 2 -- along with teams from New Jersey and Connecticut. Maryland Team 2 promptly beat Connecticut soundly to advance to the national championship game at Alabama.
Maryland Team 1, however, lost to Connecticut after a controversial touchdown on the last play of the game. But they redeemed themselves in the consolation game by beating New Jersey in a shootout, 35-34, for a third-place finish and a trip to Tuscaloosa.
Maryland Team 2, who was coached by Damascus assistants Vinny Colbert, Greg Frazier, Bucky Clipper, Marty Higgins, and Drew Abbomante, dominated the event despite less-than-ideal preparation.
"We only had a total of about three hours of practice as a team because of all of the snow," Colbert said. "But we pulled the team together and told them, 'We don't know how all of you guys play but we do know how all of us guys coach and we can win the whole thing.'"
The players clearly bought into the concept.
Frazier, one of the best quarterback prospects in Maryland, stood out by throwing 20 touchdowns and just two interceptions on the day. Thomas Johnson quarterback Brian Chase also played well in relief, throwing seven touchdown passes with only one interception. He raised his stock and becomes a "quarterback to watch" going into the 2011 season.
Cornerback Brandon Phelps (Damascus) played well for Maryland Team 2. He locked down the opponents' top receiver from his cornerback position. Meanwhile, Jamal Merritt (Sherwood) patrolled the secondary from his safety position and picked off several passes throughout the Showcase. DeShawn Weaver of St. John's Prospect Hall did a good job shadowing fast running backs coming out of the backfield.
The rest of the defense consisted of defensive backs Devin Mayo (Franklin), Charlie Jordan (DeMatha) and Mikal Mayo (Good Counsel); linebackers Garrett Dolly (Fort Hill), Elbie Williams III (DeMatha), Brandon Neverdon (Calvert Hall) and Zach Bradshaw (Damascus).
On the offensive end, Cyrus Jones (Gilman), who usually plays in the shadows of Gilman star Darius Jennings, put on a spectacular performance. Once he took a screen pass 50 yards untouched for a score, which raised some eyebrows. Navassa Brown (Franklin), Mark O'Hara (Damascus) and Demond Brown (Old Mill) chipped in admirably from their running back positions. And slot receiver Ryan Burbrink (DeMatha) made an array of plays by showing off his crisp rout running and eye-popping 4.4 speed.
Michael Turner (Boys' Latin) was also explosive offensively and C.J. Williams (Calvert Hall) made several significant plays.
Maryland Team 1 won five straight games at one point as they advanced to the final four and placed third. Quarterback Zach Dancel (Good Counsel) was efficient, tossing 20 touchdowns to three interceptions on the day. His backup Thomas Stuart (Good Counsel) completed 35-of-40 passes for nine touchdown passes and just one interception.
But Stefon Diggs (Good Counsel) stole the show with 10 touchdown catches, making him the clear-cut offensive MVP of the entire Showcase. In fact, many of the opposing players were convinced Diggs was a 19-year-old college freshman as opposed to a 16-year-old rising junior.
Scott was the head coach, while Corey Robinson and Devin Redd of Calvert Hall coached the defense. MDhigh recruiting analyst Wayne Yarborough ran the offense. Dave Lomonico, publisher of MDhigh, was the lead man on the committee that selected most of the players who participated in the event.
Maryland Team 3 also had a strong performance and represented well. This team had players primarily from Prince George's County, Southern Maryland and D.C. They were led by quarterback Delonte Edwards (Ballou), who was extremely effective and efficient. Edwards is a bona fide passer, and what he lacks in height he makes up for in arm strength.
Maryland Team 3 finished the Showcase with a record of 4-2, which is commendable considering three of their members missed the event because of a track meet (track star sprinter Ronald Darby (Potomac), Levern Jacobs (Suitland), and Joshua Thorne (Potomac)).
But Team Maryland 3 made due and started the event 3-0. Wide receiver Jeremiah Hendy (Bowie) was unstoppable at times. It's easy to see why he has an offer from Maryland already.
Daniel Adams (Dunbar D.C.) was also a big contributor. Linebacker Conner Crowell (North Point) did an effective job on defense, showing that he has the speed and flexibility to keep up with smaller and quicker backs. Cooksey Hunter (Flowers) and Darren Holbrook (Ballou) were shutdown defensive backs.