It began with more than 1,500 high school football players from around the state trying to earn a spot in a Northern Ohio 7-on-7 tournament hosted by the Cleveland Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium.
Last weekend, 140 of those players competed in a 7-on-7 team championship and for a spot on the 12-man 7-on-7 team that would represent the Browns at the NFL’s national tournament.
It turned out to be a great weekend for players from Lorain County.
The team that represented Avon, but also featured players from Elyria, Clearview, Columbia, Amherst and Fairview, successfully defended its Cleveland 7-on-7 championship. And when it was all said and done, four of those players — Clearview senior quarterback Roger Engle and junior receiver/cornerback Lance Billings, Avon junior receiver Gerett Choat and Elyria senior receiver/cornerback Mike Church — were selected to be on the 12-man Browns team.
Teams representing all 32 NFL teams will compete at the national tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis on July 14-16.
“It’s an unbelievable experience,” said Engle, who will be the starting quarterback. “To go from representing Lorain County at the Browns’ stadium to actually representing this area against the best players in the nation is pretty neat. Every NFL team is represented, so we’ll see the best of the best.”
Engle and Church were on the Avon team that won the 7-on-7 tournament last season. They immediately talked to their younger teammates about setting a goal to win the tournament again.
“I think it says a lot about Lorain County football,” Church said. “With Lorain County, I feel we don’t have the reputation that Cleveland does because of how big they are, but we beat Cleveland. We competed and beat them. No one thought we could win, but we knew we would.”
Other players on the championship team included Elyria’s Hunter Parsh, Brad Schneider, Mike Smosny and Darrin Davis; Avon’s Zachary Torbert; Amherst’s Joe D’Andrea, Tyler Eaton, Nate Nunez and Koran Brillon; and Columbia’s Jesse Lambert.
“Having four guys from Lorain County going to compete at Indianapolis was nice enough, but us winning it was good, too,” Choat said. “A lot of people didn’t think we had it in us and had the talent, but we came together as a team and we accomplished every one of our goals.”
The Lorain County team won most of its games comfortably until the championship, which went to overtime.
Besides the win, getting to play in an NFL stadium was a highlight.
“It’s a dream come true,” Engle said. “Not many kids can say they had the experience of playing at Browns Stadium, and it’s not just me, but all the other guys. It was really exciting.”
Added Church: “I look up to Joe Haden and I have ever since he was at Florida. Then I played the position he plays on the field he plays on. It really is a dream come true. You can’t put it into words. It’s something I’ll never forget. It’s amazing … it really is.”
For Engle, Church, Billings and Choat, that dream will continue in Indianapolis.
“I think it’s a great experience,” Billings said. “Me and my quarterback are going to be able to play in such a big event, and this gives us more experience as friends, teammates and competitors. It’s going to be fun.
“(Garrett and Mike), they’re great people. They’re friends now of me and Roger. They really opened up to me as a friend. The first time I met them was at the Browns facility. When I saw them on my team, I was excited. It’s great to make new friends, and we’re ready to compete.”
Other players on the Browns 7-on-7 team include Canton McKinley senior Chance Young, Coventry senior Zack Lake, Villa Angela-St. Joseph senior Marvel Ross, Euclid junior Keon Williams, Padua senior Nick Medaglia, Youngstown Christian senior Kimone Bryant, Brush senior Teondre Reynolds and Padua senior Colin Fyock.
The team had their first meeting Monday to discuss its goals.
“I learned that everyone, even though they’re from different schools, they can come together and act like a team, just like we did (Sunday),” Choat said. “I feel like Indianapolis will be a great experience. Our coaches were telling us how there’s going to be a lot of good kids there. We’re going to have to work hard to try to win this thing, and that’s our goal. I feel that we’re stepping out of the box.”
That they’ve also picked up some great practice habits they can’t wait to bring back to their respective high school programs later this summer is a bonus.
“I think it’s going to help a lot,” Church said. “I tell our guys every day in the weight room that our goal is to be conference champs and (to make) the playoffs. We’re not going out with anything less. Anything we did last year, we’re going to achieve more.
“Everything I’ve learned from this camp, I’m bringing to them. They trust me that I’m going off to do this and get better. This summer and this season of football, everyone’s going to know about me and Elyria, that’s for sure.”
Contact Dan Gilles at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.