A select group of Perth Amboy and Carteret High School football players had the unique opportunity to live like NFL stars when they played in the NFL High School Player Development 7-on-7 National Tournament, held from July 11-14 at the Cleveland Browns practice facility in Berea, Ohio.
The Middlesex County squad, which consisted of seven players from Carteret and five from Perth Amboy, represented the Giants in the tournament, which had a representative for each of the NFL’s 32 franchises.
On the field, the team, coached by Perth Amboy offensive coordinator Brad Bishop and Perth Amboy assistant coaches Patrick Ricks and Shannon Johnson, faced some of the top high school players in the nation.
“Every night, there was a dinner and banquet, and at one point, the presenter said, ‘I want every player in the room to look around. Would every player in here that has a Division I football offer raise their hand?’ ” Bishop said. “About 80 percent of the hands in the room were raised.”
While the Middlesex County team may not have finished with one of the best records in the tournament, Bishop said he was impressed with the way his players competed.
“They went out and competed hard, and even toward the end, they wanted to win and prove themselves,” he said. “But they were just playing against the type of guys they hear about and see on YouTube.”
Bishop was particularly pleased by the play of Carteret’s Cory Baccarella, who lined up all over the field for the team.
“(Bacarella) took control of the kids and made sure they stayed in line, made sure they were in the room for bed check,” Bishop said. “On the field, we put him at receiver, in the slot, at tight end, and he was catching balls and scoring touchdowns.”
Off the field, the team had the opportunity to meet former NFL players. They heard lectures from former New England Patriots wide receiver Irving Fryar and former Giants tight end Pete Mitchell, who taught the high school players about the dangers of social media.
“(Mitchell) spoke to us about the social media aspect of everything, about the way Twitter and Facebook are nowadays,” Bishop said. “The college coaches and administrators look at those sites for future prospects, so if you do something stupid, that’s your interview and the first thing they see.”
The Middlesex County team, which also received special Nike apparel and rode charter buses between its hotel and the Browns’ practice facility, came home with many lasting memories from the tournament, Bishop said.
“After the first day, these kids were dead tired, but they came back to the hotel room and were hanging out with the Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins teams,” he said. “They made a lot of friends, and it was really cool to see them the next day out on the field. They didn’t come away with a lot of wins, but I think overall they came away with a lot more.”