Steel Valley players benefit from trip to NFL 7 on 7 event
The Steel Valley football team returns one of the WPIAL's most promising running backs in sophomore DeWayne Murray, yet its focus was on the team during a recent trip to Indianapolis.
The Ironmen were given instruction on, among other things, life lessons at the National Football League High School Player Development Program from July 13-16.
“There was very little down time,” Steel Valley coach Rod Steele said. “It was a tremendous opportunity for our kids to bond as a team and see another part of the country.”
Steel Valley, through a tutoring program known as Academics in Motion, was eligible to represent the Steelers in an NFL-sponsored seven-on-seven tournament at the Colts training facility, bumping heads with high school teams from other regions of the country.
After three intense days on and off the field, the team returned home last week with a renewed outlook, the players say.
“After that, we seemed to have pulled together as a team,” senior wide receiver/safety Connor Stevens said.
“We did well,” said Steele, who enters his fifth year at Steel Valley, where his teams are a combined 21-17, including 19-14 in the Class AA Century Conference. “It was a great experience.”
While Steel Valley managed to hold its own on the field against some other NFL-sponsored opponents — there was a triple-overtime victory over the Ravens and a last-second loss to the Bengals before a loss to the eventual champion Dolphins — the real victories occurred inside at the Westin Indianapolis hotel.
There, Steele said, players learned some facts of life.
“It was a teaching lesson, not just about football,” he said. “It was a real educational experience. ... It is an effective way to find out the character of a person. I just think the kids learned a lot about how not to say and do things over the Internet.”
Steele said there was a sense of amazement from the start.
“It really taught the kids that you may go to school and get an education and be a great athlete and play for your fan base, but at the end of the day, it's how you are judged in society as a person that is really important. It's how you carry yourself as a person. Kids take that for granted in this age.”
Said Stevens: “It definitely taught us to overcome obstacles in our life, and it helped us to understand how to become a man. We have to pass this on to the younger kids and show them the right path to take.”
Steel Valley was eligible to make the trip, paid in full by the NFL, because Steele said the district “fit the criteria.” He said he is provided with weekly reports from tutors on the academic progress of his players and insisted that the majority have been able to benefit from it.
The trip to Indianapolis was “a first for a lot of them,” Steele said, adding that the team appeared to be in shock when it arrived at the upscale hotel in downtown Indianapolis, where security was tight.
“Everything was covered,” Steele said. “The athletes and coaches had to identify who they were. It was just like playing in the NFL at a big stadium.”
Guest speakers included former Packers wide receiver Antonio Freeman and Colts tight end Dwayne Allen.
Booker T. Washington of Miami, representing the Dolphins, won the seven-on-seven competition.
“We learned a lot about where we stand as a team and how we should carry ourselves,” Stevens said. “The Miami team was just unbelievable. They worked together so well. It was fun to watch. They were smooth and just seemed to know each other like the back of their hand. You could tell they were all going somewhere. They were a finished product.”
No doubt, Steele, too, was observing that Miami unit — as well as his own.
“The purpose of going down there was more than football,” he said. “It also was for developing the player and having him understand how he's being judged as a person. The NFL and Nike, the National Guard with its security, and the Westin Hotel did things first class in a professional setting that these kids will remember for the rest of their lives.”
Dave Mackall is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.