A new league for youth football is coming to the Bradenton/Sarasota area and it promises to offer more opportunities for its players.
The G57v7 Football League Powered by Manatee PAL & Adidas, will introduce children from kindergarten to 8th grade to the 7v7 style of playing the game. This league created by NFL quarterback, Adrian Mcpherson and MCSO Deputy Ralph Bryant Officer Bryant, recognizes the importance of keeping children off the streets, out of the hands of negative influences, giving them hope for their future and creating awareness of the amount of talent in communities.
Sitting down with Co-founder Adrian Mcpherson and PAL (Police Athlete League) Director of Programs/Fundraising Gina Spicer to talk about this new program, we begin with the basics. I aim to cover their football initiative, get some short quotes on why it’s important and have an article out by week’s end. We end up talking for over an hour. I quickly find out that it’s less about football, and more about futures.
More than just another opportunity to play and perfect the game, they’re about meeting kids where they are, providing them with adult role models and opportunities for success, and preparing them for their futures beyond football.
What makes this league unique other than introducing a different kind of play?
Inclusivity. Opportunity. Mentorship.
7v7 is a non-contact football game focused on all passing. This helps to develop more of the skillsets on passing, catching, and covering for all players no matter what position. It takes away the physical and mental stress of tackling and lets the players focus on polishing their specific skills.
Boys and girls are welcome to play.
Gina pipes in, “If you have talent, work hard, and will follow the rules – we want to work with you.”
It’s worth noticing that the league is open to ages as young as kindergarten.
Gina explains how a major goal of PAL is to reach kids young enough to help encourage them on the right path starting at a young age- developing them as students, athletes, and leaders over long periods of time.
“We’re investing in these kids in the long haul. Sports are the carrot to get them involved, but really, we want to do all we can to make them feel set up for life after sports.”
The idea is to get kids involved younger, so that they can usher them into this idea of responsibility and teamwork at a formative age.
This league is non-contact, and will provide the most advanced safety wear technology. Through a league partnership, players will have a protective helmet with a concussion detection device.
Clearly, the planning and intentionality of this league has been well thought-out and in the works for years. Co-founders Adrian Mcpherson and MCSO Ralph Bryant made sure of it.
Adrian Mcpherson’s a local football legend, Deputy Bryant is the Director of Football at PAL in 2016. Also heavily involved in the creation of the league is Deputy Francine Houston, PAL’s Director of Basketball/Assistant Director of Football. She is a major champion of PAL because she’s a PAL success story herself. She joined PAL in 1998 at 13 years old, and began being mentored and coached by Deputy Bryant. She eventually went on to play college basketball and now gets to work side-by-side with her longtime role model.
For Mcpherson, it all began over 25 years ago when this young aspiring athlete moved to Bradenton.
When Adrian Mcpherson joined the Manatee Broncos football league at age 8, he was the new kid in town. He had previously only been coached by his father, so he was entering new territory and knew he would have to prove himself. He walked in on day 1 of practice and Coach Johnny West approached the young, lanky boy asking him what position he wanted to play.
“I would like to play Quarterback, sir.”
“Okay, you’re my Quarterback.”
And so he was.
He was quarterback from then on with his Manatee Broncos and long after, through high school at Southeast, college football at Florida State, and throughout the pros.
Coach Johnny West was at every one of Adrian’s high school games. Adrian would write Coach’s name on his wristband every game of his collegiate football career. Coach would call after every game, giving Adrian notes and words of encouragement.
“He trusted me. He cared for me. He was the first man outside of my Dad, that believed in me more than I believed in myself.”
Adrian knows the value that this mentorship and support has meant in his life, and he wants to give the goal-line push these kids need to succeed.
So he did.
2 years ago, while playing in the Canadian Football League, Adrian made a call to his cousin. He was tired of seeing talented high school kids from his hometown get overlooked due to an overload of talent in the area and not enough time for all kids to be considered. So in the offseason he started coaching Air5, a 7v7 team of high school athletes from all over.
His days would be spent coaching these high school athletes and his weekends would be spent taking the team on full college tours and introducing them to coaching staff.
Prior to their visits, he would send the coaches information on his players: what schools they attend, test scores, grades, reports and contact information of their guidance counselor, oh yeah and lastly, their football highlights. He wants coaches to know they’re not just getting a quality player but a quality person.
Adrian did this all while living in Daytona. Adrian would drive 3 hours each way to and from practice in Bradenton. He wanted to help kids in his community, in his hometown, where he was built.
I ask what Adrian would listen to for those 6 hours a day.
Clearly, ol’ blue eyes worked.
Last season, 18 of the 24 kids on the Air5 team ended the season with a college scholarship. Even a freshman receiving a scholarship offer. That kind of success is basically unheard of. But so is his strategy. He aims to develop the individuals, encourage the team, and take the kids directly to the source: coaches.
Often on high school football teams, it’s easy (and albeit exciting) to focus on the star power. There’s usually at least one stand-out player, or due to Florida’s hotbed of impressive high school football influence, a handful. Those students get poured into and they’re mostly the ones being seen and getting offers from colleges.
Rarely do all or even many of the players get the same attention or opportunities. Great high school coaches are doing all they can to get their team seen, so they want to provide a league for the off-season that focuses on getting more players scholarship opportunity.
As the interview goes on, Adrian, Gina and I start to get a little more comfortable with each other. I end up asking a few questions about some sensitive subjects but exclaim “Off-the-record, if you’d like. I’m just genuinely curious”. Adrian and Gina answer openly, confidently, and honestly. I ask if it’s too late for me to join his mentorship program.
I see the way that Adrian’s openness, confidence, and vision has taken this supposedly unbiased journalist assigned to report on a new sports league and has with seeming ease- made me a fan. I leave the meeting feeling inspired and encouraged, I leave the office and text 3 friends about it. I think WOW, I’m an adult non-athlete who just spent an hour with them and I want to suddenly practice my spiral. Then I imagine what the daily investments Adrian, Gina, and the team at PAL are doing for the kids they’re working with. Even before these kids play a single game, they’re winning with that alone.
Sign your kids up for the league here: http://g57v7.sportngin.com/home or provide the opportunity for sponsorship of a kid to play in this league. PAL never wants to turn any aspiring kid away so you can look up donor opportunities here: http://manateepal.org/Programs.htm
The Jamboree for G57v7 is the 20th of January.
photos courtesy of Adrian Mcpherson and Manatee PAL