Storylines Plentiful at NIKE 7 on 7

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This Friday at Veterans Memorial Stadium in Long Beach, Student Sports will host the fifth annual NIKE 7 on 7 Passing Championship slated for 11am. Through the first four years of the event, some memorable moments stick out in our minds both on and off the field.
At the first annual event, we didn't know what to expect from eventual champion Mission Viejo. We knew they had a good team and a great player in receiver/defensive back Marty Tadman, but it looked like Tadman might have to play quarterback for the Diablos…until Mark Sanchez emerged. Everyone knew Sanchez had talent even though he only took a few snaps as a sophomore at Santa Margarita. He matched Mater Dei's Jason Forcier throw for throw and led his team to the first championship. Sanchez's ability allowed Tadman to play other positions as a senior in the fall, where he earned all-state honors as a receiver, defensive back and trick play quarterback. Sanchez is now at USC while Forcier (who would ride a train to Mater Dei from his home in San Diego County) finished up his prep career at St. Augustine of San Diego.
Heading into his senior season, Sanchez was quickly developing into one of the top signal-callers in the country. At the NIKE 7 on 7 in 2004, he delivered, as the Diablos won their second consecutive championship with a win over Long Beach Poly. Although Sanchez took home MVP honors for the victorious team, the MVP from the losing team had quite a day to say the least.
At an earlier NIKE Combine in the spring of 2004, Poly senior-to-be Desean Jackson ripped off a 4.38 hand-time 40-yard dash. Jackson's breakfast didn't agree with him that day and as we took pictures of the prospects as they left USC's Howard Jones Field, the Poly receiver had to vomit off in the corner.
"Oh, Desean is faster than that, he was a little sick," remarked his father, Bill. "He ate something that didn't agree with him this morning."
Another dad who boasts about his son, we figured. We see them every year, so we asked Jackson's father if he was going to compete in the "L.A. Fastest Man" competition later that summer. Only problem was, Jackson was going to compete at the NIKE 7 on 7 with Poly and also was going to try out for the Milwaukee Brewers Area Code baseball team at Ron Dedeaux Field adjacent to Howard Jones Field that same day. The thought of him running for the title of "L.A.'s Fastest Man" seemed remote.
"He ain't doing that," his father said. "He's got some important business to take of that day."
Jackson indeed had some important business to attend to and we also found out his father Bill wasn't exaggerating. The Brewers Area Code final tryout is one of the most intense days a high school baseball player will encounter. He is being evaluated in front of over 100 Major League Baseball Scouts and 50 head baseball coaches of some of the most prestigious programs in the country while trying to earn one of 25 coveted spots on the Brewers' Area Code team.
The tryout is a business-like affair and it's imperative that players show up on time or risk being sent packing before even taking a swing. Jackson and his father were there at 7a.m. sharp. Throughout the day, Jackson shuttled between both fields. He had a great tryout and at the end of the day he earned a spot in the prestigious Area Code Games. Even though he had a few drops, Jackson was also the most explosive player at that year's NIKE 7 on 7.
Once the day got going, Jackson's competitive juices got flowing and he decided to participate in the NIKE Speed Showdown, which was to start at the conclusion of the Brewers' tryout. Obviously exhausted from already participating in two elite events, Jackson recharged his battery enough to make the finals of the fastest man competition, which concluded well after 7pm to accommodate the large crowd that gathered for the performance of Atlanta-based rapper "Ludacris".
In the final, Jackson squared off against Lionel Larry from Dominguez of Compton. Now, Larry was an elite sprinter who won the CIF state 200-meter title (20.97) as a junior. He also wasn't a football player, so Larry was well-rested and familiar with using starting blocks. There was a lot of anticipation heading into the final race and in the end, Larry won the race with a sizzling 4.28 time.
Jackson, with his day starting over 12 hours earlier, clocked a hand-timed 4.29. Jackson went on to lead Poly to the 2004 CIF Southern Section Div. I title, winning Mr. Football honors in the process, and is probably the most explosive receiver in college football. So in the end his father was obviously not bragging.
The one thing we always wonder about that day (besides Ludracis wearing a "throwback" Wilt Chamberlain high school jersey with No. 13 on it when he wore No. 5 at Overbrook in Philadelphia) is -- what was Larry doing at seven in the morning?
While Jackson has been the most explosive receiver to compete in this tournament, the most physically imposing was probably Damian Williams from Springdale, Arkansas the following year. The 6-foot-1, 180-pound Williams and quarterback Mitch Mustain led Springdale to a undefeated season in the fall of 2005, but only went 1-1 at the NIKE 7 on 7 with a loss to Valencia and a win over Edison.
Williams, Mustain and Springdale head coach Gus Malzahn wanted to play a third game against Long Beach Poly since they came 1,200 miles to play in a passing league, but no officials were available. The trio joined the University of Arkansas program, but currently Williams and Mustain are both enrolled at USC and now practice on the same field they competed at during the 7 on 7.
Mater Dei, by virtue of its victory at the Dana Hills/Student Sports Air Strike 07 passing tournament, is unofficially the favorite at this year's tournament, so it looks like Hart of Newhall is in for a battle. The 2005 NIKE 7 on 7, however, taught us that you should never count out the Indians. Hart won the title with only 12 players, not because they couldn't field a full team but because a few of the team's starters and the second unit were busy winning the Bonita Tournament at the same time.
When Hart faced Jackson and company a year earlier, Student Sports President Andy Bark commented to watch out for one of their defensive backs. "That guy just had three picks against Poly," Bark said. "Keep an eye on him."
That player turned out to be James Wheeler and in 2005, he was even better. In the two years he competed with Hart, the two-way standout must have come up with 8-10 interceptions. His play on both sides of the ball helped Hart hold off an underclass-dominated Oaks Christian team.
This year, Hart was the runner-up at the Bonita Tournament, but they are decimated with injuries and won't have the services of all-state candidate Delano Howell, among others. Based on what they have accomplished in the past, however, you can't completely count them out.
Another team that recently had a runner-up finish at a big-time tournament is Crespi. The Celts finished second at the recent UCLA tourney, also won the College of the Canyons tournament and will face Long Beach Poly in an attractive opening game. Poly has been up-and-down so far this spring, but they are usually ready to go in this tournament, especially since they will be playing on their home field.
Last week, Edison won its own tournament and Elite 11 signal-caller Nick Crissman played as well as any quarterback in attendance among a host of potential Div. I signees. Crissman and company open up this Friday with Birmingham of Lake Balboa, the prohibitive favorites to take the L.A. City Section title. Last year, Edison advanced to the finals against Oaks Christian after winning the Dana Hills/Student Sports Air Strike 06 tourney behind the stellar play of graduated stars Hunter White and Dominique Vinson.
White and Vinson were catching everything thrown by Crissman last year, but an unfortunate injury kept Vinson out of the title game. His injury actually was one of those moments that sticks out the most about last year's event. Vinson's shoulder popped out and, of course, the trainer wasn't nearby at the time. Edison head coach Dave White told worried onlookers, "Don't worry, it happens to him 10 times a year."
The tough-as-nails Vinson bounced back to earn first-team all-state honors while catching 78 passes for a Chargers team that advanced to the CIFSS Pac-Five Division final. On both sides of the ball, in passing league and in pads, Vinson can really get the job done.
Two teams looking to advance to the CIFSS Div. I (Pac-Five) final this year after previously dominating in Div. II and Div. III, respectively, are Mission Viejo and Notre Dame, who will meet in a first round match up Friday. Both teams lost in the Pac-Five quarterfinals last season and hope to use the NIKE 7 on 7 as a springboard to successful seasons as so many other teams have. Notre Dame is led by quarterback Dayne Crist, who like Crissman will compete at this year's Elite 11, while Mission Viejo will rely on the arm of junior-to-be Allan Bridgford and the all-around ability of Alex Mascarenas.
If Vinson's play and subsequent injury was the standout moment last year, that's partly because the play of Oak Christian quarterback Jimmy Clausen was so good throughout it's hard to pick a single moment or play. In fact, the University of Notre Dame quarterback turned last year's NIKE 7 on 7 into his own personal showcase. He not only led Oaks Christian to the title and then led them to a CIF Div. III state title in the fall, Clausen did it by not throwing a single interception throughout the tournament.
So what kind of story line will emerge this year? It's likely to come from some player that will shine with the pads on or from a team that will enjoy a successful season in the fall.
2007 NIKE 7 on 7 Passing Championships
Field 1
Santa Ana Mater Dei vs. Newhall Hart -- 11:00am:
Mission Viejo vs. Sherman Oaks Notre Dame -- 11:00am:
Field 2
Huntington Beach Edison vs. Lake Balboa Birmingham -- 12:00pm
Long Beach Poly vs. Encino Crespi -- 12:00pm
•The two winners and two losers on Field 1 will play each other at •1:00. The two winners and two losers on Field 2 will play each other 2:00
•The championship final is slated for 3:15
Past NIKE 7 on 7 Passing Championship Game Results:
2003 -- Long Beach City College Veterans Stadium
Mission Viejo 27, Santa Ana Mater Dei 20
MVPs: WR Marty Tadman (MV/Boise State), QB Jason Forcier (MD/St. Augustine/Michigan/Stanford)
2004 -- USC's Howard Jones Field
Mission Viejo 35, Long Beach Poly 28
MVPs: QB Mark Sanchez (Santa Margarita/MV/USC), WR Desean Jackson (Poly/CAL)
2005 -- USC's Howard Jones Field
Newhall Hart 26, Westlake Village Oaks Christian 20
MVPs: DB/WR James Wheeler (Hart/El Camino JC), QB Jimmy Clausen (OC/Notre Dame)
2006 -- Long Beach City College Veterans Stadium
Westlake Village Oaks Christian 24, Huntington Beach Edison 7
MVP's: QB Jimmy Clausen (OC/Notre Dame), WR/DB Dominique Vinson (Edison/Saddleback JC)
Note: If you want to talk about the tournament or mention a player we missed, please go to the football message board. We would love to hear about what you think about this year's match ups and on Friday night we'd love to read what you saw at the tournament.