As participants in a rivalry that dates back to 1927, Perth Amboy and Carteret High School football players are used to competing against each other. But earlier this summer, players from the two schools teamed up to win a regional 7-on-7 football tournament and earn an all-expenses-paid trip to Cleveland to play in the NFL National 7-on-7 Tournament.
The NFL National 7-on-7 Tournament, which began Thursday and runs through Sunday, is part of the league’s High School Player Development (HSPD) program. The HSPD program includes weeklong camps, one of which was held at Perth Amboy High School in mid-June.
Perth Amboy offensive coordinator Brad Bishop directed the camp, which included players from six Middlesex County high schools. Bishop, along with Perth Amboy assistant coaches Patrick Ricks and Shannon Johnson, selected a team of 12 players to compete in a regional tournament against other HSPD regional sites.
The Middlesex County squad, which includes seven players from Carteret and five from Perth Amboy, then defeated teams from Scotch Plains, Belleville and Rockland County, N.Y., to earn a spot as the Giants’ representative in the national tournament.
Now, the team will experience a taste of the professional football lifestyle. They’re set to travel to the Cleveland Browns practice facility in Berea, Ohio, where they’ll play teams representing the NFL’s other 31 franchises.
“I think what the players will take away is that they’re going to get an experience that a lot of other kids don’t,” Bishop said. “They’ll be treated like NFL players and go out there and compete against some of the best players in the country.”
Bishop’s team will have the opportunity to play a minimum of eight games at the national tournament, although the rules will be a little different than usual — only seven players are allowed on the field at a time. Games are only 20 minutes long and take place on a 40-yard field.
In addition to playing at a first-class facility, players from the Middlesex County team will tour the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, meet past NFL stars such as former New England Patriots wide receiver Irving Fryar and receive special Nike apparel.
“The team is just excited to go out there and play as superstars,” Bishop said. “Everything’s paid for them, they’re going to fly into Cleveland and have the NFL pick them up and escort them in on a charter bus. I think they’re really excited about the whole experience itself, beyond the football aspect of it.”
Members of the Middlesex County team will also attend lectures on character development, an important aspect of the HSPD program.
“Important characteristics (of the program), including time management, leadership, academic success and hydration, were all talked about and discussed through the planner they got (at the regional camp),” Bishop said. “With this tournament, they’ll have a whole breakdown of these characteristics.”
While Bishop said he wants his team to soak in the entire experience, he’s also interested to see how his squad will fare against national competition.
“My goal for them is to go out there and learn as much as they can,” Bishop said. “At the same time, I would like to put on a good showing for New Jersey, Middlesex County, for the players’ home schools and, of course, themselves and their families.”