Spending six days on a bus with 25 elite high school football players taught me a variety of lessons. The most important? Aerosol deodorant may have fallen out of fashion, but it is critical when sharing an enclosed space with 32 other males who are subsisting on a diet of McDonald's, all-you-can-eat-buffet fare and rest-area vending machine goodies. Feel free to bring a separate stick of deodorant to use under the arms.
Here are some of the other lessons I learned during my week with the South Florida Express traveling 7-on-7 team.
Football, at least for skill-position players, is going to resemble basketball in a few years. All-Star teams will travel the country playing in 7-on-7 tournaments, and the best players will meet multiple times before they see one another in pads at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl or Under Armour All-America Game. With the increased interest in and coverage of football recruiting, it shouldn't surprise anyone that travel football is growing. What's amazing is that it took this long to figure out how to make it work.
Three years ago, brothers-in-law
Even without a TV deal or well-known sponsor, the BadgerSports Elite 7-on-7 National Championship drew some of the nation's best players. A few days later, Nike hosted the latest installment of its 7on series, which matches 7-on-7 teams -- made up exclusively of high school teammates -- for a made-for-TV event that aired on ESPNU. ESPN also will hold its second Gridiron Kings 7-on-7 tournament, which features all-star teams divided by region, later this month. Under Armour and Fox -- two companies always looking for an edge on Nike and ESPN -- would be wise to enter the 7-on-7 business.
The best new idea I heard during the tournament came from former NFL star
A tournament during the spring evaluation period would mimic major travel basketball tournaments such as the Peach Jam, where coaches surround the court to watch teams from across the nation. "[A coach] can say, 'I can knock all these down in a two-day period,' " Johnson said.
That could be helpful for schools with tight recruiting budgets and for players who are seeking scholarship offers. For example, had coaches been able to watch the BadgerSports tournament, Express receiver
Johnson and Kelly want their tournament to be an extension of a brand called
So is all of this good for college football? Yes and no. College basketball recruiting is an absolute cesspool, so anything that makes football recruiting more like basketball recruiting is risky. Fortunately, the sheer number of football recruits (25 in a class as opposed to three or four for basketball) reduces the financial incentive to cheat because the chances of guessing wrong are so much higher. Also, if travel football helps underexposed players find scholarship opportunities or helps more players visit schools they couldn't afford to visit otherwise, it isn't all bad.
The NCAA rulebook can be a bear. Express players were supposed to take unofficial visits to Florida State, LSU, Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Florida during the trip. On an unofficial visit, coaches and players can meet with recruits. Basically, the only difference between an unofficial visit (the recruit pays his own way) and an official visit (the school pays) is who foots the bill.
At FSU, the coaching staff had even planned a dinner presentation. Express coaches and players would have had to pay for the food, but they would have gotten plenty of face time with the staff. A last-minute check of the rules by FSU officials scuttled the plans for the unofficial visits at every school except Florida. Why? Because the rules state that programs cannot host a team traveling to a competition. Meanwhile, it is perfectly legal to host teams returning from a competition.
The football coaches will have to deal with them more as elite travel football grows. Goetz, meanwhile, will know better next year. He'll take his team to the tournament first, then to the schools.
Blue-chip defensive back recruit
You may already have
They are, in no particular order: Auburn, Florida, Florida State, LSU, Miami, Michigan, Nebraska, Notre Dame, Ole Miss, South Carolina, Stanford, Vanderbilt, UCLA, South Florida.
There is a reason Alabama has recruited so well since
So guess where next year's national tournament will be? That's correct. Tuscaloosa.
Who says kids these days don't like to read? Express players were more than happy to read the subtitles of
The bus ride on the first day was long; eight hours from Hollywood, Fla., to Tallahassee, Fla., then almost three more from Tallahassee to Milton, Fla. As we left Florida State, the players weren't exactly thrilled about the idea of more time on the bus. But once
I learned more Patois from the movie than I learned in two trips to Jamaica. Unfortunately, it was a gangster movie, so my Patois-speaking ability is limited pretty much to swearing. (By the way, Jamaicans with phlebitis must get very offended when they go to the doctor. Don't understand? Click the link above and check the B section of the glossary.)
I worried about how Plantation (Fla.) High linebacker
The fears proved unfounded. Shazier, a 206-pounder who projects as a linebacker in college, blew past everyone in his position group and finished second overall. Later, he said he thinks he can run the 40-yard dash in the 4.3-second range.
So maybe ribs are Shazier's personal rocket fuel. Who knew? If Shazier winds up at the NFL's scouting combine after his college career, he'll know the surest way to prepare to run his way to millions: find a good barbecue joint.