NASHVILLE – In just over two weeks, the Tennessee Titans will be back on the field at Saint Thomas Sports Park during training camp.
On Wednesday, however, the NFL facility was hopping as over 500 high school athletes and roughly 120 coaches were on hand for the fifth annual Titans 7 on 7 Passing Tournament, which also included a Linemen Challenge for the first time.
Mt. Juliet captured the 7 on 7 Passing Tournament title with a dramatic 14-8 overtime win over Ravenwood, while Fairview was crowned winner of the Linemen Challenge. Ravenwood won the overall 11-on award, which combined points from the 7 on 7 Passing Tourney and the Linemen Challenge.
Trey Perry, in his seventh season as head coach at Mt. Juliet, was swarmed by his players at the end of a 12-hour day that saw his team win games over Gallatin, Brentwood, Pearl-Cohn and Ravenwood to take home the trophy. Perry said the competition was great while praising the Titans and Josh Corey, Football Outreach Coordinator for the organization.
"These kinds of things don't happen everywhere," Perry said of the event. "This, the (Titans) Recruiting Fair, the Coaches Clinic the team does, it's awesome and so important to high school athletics. Josh is the key piece in that and we are very, very appreciative. The fact the Titans take the time out for the kids and all the coaches, it's huge.
"And to see our kids respond to adversity. I know a lot of people say, 'Well, it's 7 on 7 and it's not Friday night ball.' Well, the level of competition here today and the mentality here today, the coaching here today, we are better leaving here than when we got here and that's the goal. It was really fun to see the kids persevere through a long day."
Mt. Juliet won the title game on a touchdown pass from quarterback Brice Messenger to running back Jamari Sowell in overtime. Earlier in overtime, Mt. Juliet stopped Ravenwood on four downs.
Mt. Juliet got its first touchdown in the title game on a Messenger touchdown pass to Cam Malone, and then added two points when tight end Matt Delfendahl hauled in a pass from Messenger. Mt. Juliet's Todd Harris had a key interception earlier in the game. Perry gave props to Curtis Grah, the school's strength and conditioning coach, for having the kids prepared for the long day.
Corey, formerly a high school coach at Fletcher High (Fla.) who played collegiately at the University of Florida, has been instrumental in helping the organization build stronger relationships with high school programs in the area. Over 220 coaches from across the state showed up for the 2019 Titans High School Coaches Clinic, representing schools across the state of Tennessee and into Kentucky.
"I think it sends a great message to our community, especially our local high schools, the players, the coaching staffs, that what they do, we care about," Corey said of the event. "What they do is important to us. We'd obviously like to bring all of these kids in and turn them into Titans fans, too. We want them to follow us, and be excited about their hometown team. So there's that engagement of being able to bring those kids in and try and create life-long fans."
The Titans added three more teams to this year's 7 on 7 passing tournament, making it the biggest event yet. At the start of the day, a Character Development Session was led by former Titans linebacker Keith Bulluck. The linemen went through a film study, a bench press contest and the linemen challenge.
Whitehaven's Zyon Wallace won the bench press award with 30 reps of 185 pounds.
Gatorade donated coolers, protein bars and water bottles.
The Titans handed out t-shirts, trophies, and even some cleats.
Mt. Juliet joined previous tournament champions Oakland High School (2015, 2016, 2018) and Brentwood Academy (2017).
In hosting the event, the Titans aim to provide an opportunity for high school football programs in the area to prepare for the upcoming season.
"These kids have been working out hard all summer, and they've been getting reps against each other," Corey said. "It's nice to be able to come to a different venue, an NFL facility, and go and compete against other schools, guys in other helmets. And the competition out here, it's been great."
Over 500 high school athletes and 120 coaches were on hand for the 5th Annual Titans 7-on-7 Passing Tournament at Saint Thomas Sports Park. (Photos: Donald Page)