No, it is not yet high school football season in Northern Virginia or around the country. But last week, from Thursday, July 14 through Saturday, July 16, some of the top high school gridiron players both locally and across the nation converged in Chantilly to take part in one of the biggest off season events anywhere at the Mel Kiper, Jr. 7 on 7 University National Championship Tournament, a non-contact passing event meant to upgrade teams’ aerial attacks as well as individual fundamentals in a highly competitive setting.
Poplar Tree Park, located off of Stringfellow Road in Chantilly and under the jurisdiction of the Fairfax County Park Authority, was the venue of the 32-team spectacle. Fast-moving games, played in less than 45 minutes, took place over the three days on the park’s two 100-yard turf fields. On one field alone, two games could be played at once with each game utilizing 50 yards of real estate.
“Seven on 7 is clearly a different type of football,” said Lake Braddock Secondary football coach Jim Poythress, whose Bruins were one of four participating teams from the Northern Region. “It’s about competing at a high level, managing a game, and overcoming adversity. You get to play against some great athletes.”
Games moved briskly as teams in possession of the ball had less than 30 seconds to snap the ball following each play, with a game official audibly counting down the final 15 seconds.
High school teams from Maryland, Virginia, Washington, D.C., New York, Florida, Iowa, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Arkansas, Delaware, and Mississippi were on hand. Some of the nation’s top recruited high school players participated. Local participating teams from the Northern Region, along with two-time defending Division 6 region champion Lake Braddock, were Oakton (Concorde District), Lee (Patriot District), and Yorktown (National District).
THE EVENT’S STAR POWER came from Mel Kiper Jr., the well-known ESPN college football and NFL pro draft analyst, who was on hand for the entire three days. Kiper kept tabs on all the games but paid special attention to the school where he once attended and graduated from, Calvert Hall out of Baltimore. The popular, energetic Kiper was immediately recognized by players, coaches, and football fans alike and spent much of his time talking football with folks.
Several months ago, Kiper, who has directed and led his own 7 on 7 University Series for several years, contacted Washington, D.C., area pass league organizers, including Oakton High football coach Joe Thompson, to talk about combining forces and creating a national tournament. Last week’s showcase at Poplar Tree was the result of those talks.
“Mel Kiper came on board with his group, so we were able to put his name on it,” said Thompson, who teamed with friend Jim Boone in recent years to run both Northern Region and metro area passing league tournaments. “He’s been instrumental in getting teams here.”
Kiper said he was enjoying the three days of action at Poplar Tree Park as a fan first and foremost.
“I’m not evaluating [players] here,” he said. “I’m just watching great kids and great coaches. This will be a memorable experience for them. It’s thrilling for me to have Calvert Hall here. They were number one in [Maryland] last year.”
Kiper said the arrangements to conduct the tournament at Poplar Tree Park were made late but that he was thrilled with the site.
“I can’t thank these people enough,” he said of the county park officials and Thompson’s group. “It’s a great atmosphere and everything you want in a football setting. We couldn’t be happier with this. We were in the position late in the [organizing] process waiting for a venue.
“You have two turf fields here, concessions in between the fields and trees in the background,” said Kiper. “The atmosphere is great and you have everything you could want. Poplar tree is a special site and they have been accommodating.”
In the days leading up to it, Brotman-Winter-Fried Communications promoted the event heavily on local radio airwaves and other media forums. The primary event sponsor for the inaugural national tournament is Under Armour.
LOCAL TEAMS LAKE BRADDOCK and Oakton both went as far as the tournament quarterfinals before losing. Lake Braddock qualified for final day play on Saturday and defeated Waterloo East (Iowa), 34-6, in a 9 a.m. game before losing to Red Lion (Pa.), 52-36, in a quarterfinals game.
Poythress, the Lake Braddock school season head coach, said the Bruins, who run a 5-wide offensive attack during the fall, were in their element at the wide-open passing tournament.
“We won our first three games,” said Poythress, of the earlier tournament action wins over teams from Iowa, Baltimore, and New York. “The kids call their own plays. Tyler Quigley, who was a defensive back for us last fall, was our quarterback. We run a pretty good offensive system and we were built for this [passing league]. There are some really good teams here. My feeling here is to have fun, enjoy the experience and if you win, you win.”
Oakton reached the quarters by defeating Warwick High (N.Y.), 45-21, on Saturday morning. Their run to a championship then ended with a loss to Calvert Hall, which ultimately reached the title game where it fell to Pulaski (Ark.), 30-26.
Oakton linebacker C.J. Reimann said it was neat that Oakton, from its own back yard, was vying in a tournament against some of the top high school teams in the country.
“We talked about that,” he said, with a laugh. “We’re 15 minutes down the road from Oakton and we’re playing these teams like Arkansas, Florida and New York. We’ve meshed together pretty good as a team and played together.”
Shaun May, the media and public relations director for Brotman-Winter-Fried Communications, said one of the best attributes of the Kiper passing league is that high school teams can grow as a unit during the off season.
“It keeps the guys together,” said May. “These kids are in class together, play football together, and now have come together for something like this.”
And he said the players all want to meet Mel Kiper.
“You talk to these kids and they’re all like, ‘Where’s Mel?’”