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Deshaun Watson hosts inaugural 7-on-7 tournament; Archbishop Hoban takes home the belt

The Cleveland Browns quarterback invited 16 local teams to take part in the event's first year
Archbishop Hoban players pose with Deshaun Watson after winning the inaugural Deshaun Watson Foundation 7-on-7 Tournament on Tuesday. (Photo: Ryan Isley) 

Archbishop Hoban players pose with Deshaun Watson after winning the inaugural Deshaun Watson Foundation 7-on-7 Tournament on Tuesday. (Photo: Ryan Isley) 

AKRON, Ohio – When Deshaun Watson got traded to the Cleveland Browns in March of 2022, one of the things he was told was something he had heard throughout his college and NFL careers – that there was good high school football in the state of Ohio.

So on Tuesday, the three-time Pro Bowl quarterback got to witness some of that talent first-hand as he held the inaugural Deshaun Watson Foundation 7-on-7 Tournament at Archbishop Hoban High School.

“The biggest reason I wanted to get this tournament started here is because when I got traded here, I heard that Ohio has some great football,” Watson told the players from the 16 teams participating. “Growing up in Georgia, I am a little bit biased, so I wanted to come out here and see some of the talent.”

Watson got the idea from playing in the first Cam Newton Camp in Atlanta when Watson played high school football at Gainesville High School in Georgia. Watson was named the quarterback on the all-star team from that camp and has kept in touch with Newton throughout the years. He told the players on Tuesday that he once was in their shoes.

“I was in the same position you guys are in,” Watson said. “That changed my mindset of where I wanted to go in life and that was to the NFL. Cam became my big brother and I still talk to him today.”

Watson used that camp to springboard himself to a great high school career, where he was a four-year starter for the Red Elephants and threw for over 13,000 yards and 218 touchdowns while rushing for more than 4,000 yards and 63 more scores. He helped lead Gainesville to a state championship as a junior and to the state semifinals in his sophomore and senior seasons.  

He even told the players that maybe he would be to them what Cam was to him and he could become a mentor to some of them as they continue their journey in the game of football.

The 16 teams – Archbishop Hoban, BedfordKirtlandStrongsville, Akron Buchtel, Austintown Fitch, Glenville, Maple Heights, Akron East, Brush, John Hay, Olmsted Falls, Aurora, Cleveland Heights, Lutheran West and Chaney – were split into four pods of four teams each and played three pool games of 30 minutes before being seeded for the single elimination tournament.

One of the things Watson told the players as they huddled around him at the beginning of the day was to have fun and be competitive. He even encouraged a little jawing.

“Come out here and compete, be safe, talk a little trash, but at the same time be respectful,” Watson told the players. “Make some plays, and who knows where this is going to take us.”

One of the players who took Watson’s words to heart was Akron East wide receiver Ibraham Kamara. The senior went up to Watson and said he was the player the Browns quarterback should keep an eye on. Kamara didn’t disappoint, as he caught a touchdown pass on the first play of the ensuing game and then made another tough catch in traffic on East’s next offensive possession. 

“It’s awesome to see them go out there and compete and not just talk about it but actually go out there and perform and do it and have fun,” Watson said of the interaction with Kamara. “That’s the key too is having fun and enjoying their time.”

Hoban ended up winning the tournament by defeating Glenville three scores to one in the finals. Glenville scored on its first possession, but Hoban answered and then got a turnover on downs and scored again. After an interception by the defense, the Hoban offense took the field and quarterback Tylan Boykin threw his third touchdown pass of the game to give the Knights the final advantage.

The Hoban players received championship t-shirts, hats and signed Deshaun Watson jerseys for their victory. They also got to take home the WWE-style championship belt that was created for the event.

Watson looks forward to keeping this event going, talking about possibly making it even bigger in years to come.

“There were a lot of teams that wanted to be a part of it, but we are trying to keep it as small as we can right now because it is the first one,” Watson said. “We want to continue to expand it and hopefully next year we can expand it to 32 or maybe 48 teams.”