Maryland Team Flex, a 20-person 7-on-7 squad based out of Prince George's County, did not emerge victorious in their Fourth of July weekend national competition at Southern Methodist University. But they certainly didn't disappoint.
Flex, one of 20 teams from around the country to participated, finished 4-3 and succeeded in putting Maryland on the map.
"I thought we competed very well," said Flex coach Steve Rapp. "We don't have any 'big name' players on our team and we were going against four- and five-star prospects. Based on that, I thought we held our own."
Flex entered the tournament as the No. 2 overall seed after winning a previous 7-on-7 at Rutgers and finishing third at another in Pittsburgh.
They arrived in Texas on Wednesday night, and after two days of practice the team was ready for "pool play" on Saturday. Flex finished 2-2 that first day, beating teams from Michigan and Pennsylvania before losing two games by one point each.
"We played hard, but we came out a little slow," said running back Darius Victor from Northwestern High. "The games we lost, I felt we could have won if we didn't make mistakes early."
The mistakes cost Flex a higher seed heading into championship play on Sunday. As the No. 6 overall seed, they won their first two games, putting them in the final six. But Flex's title hopes came to an end when they let up a late touchdown against a team from Louisiana.
"We obviously wanted to win, but I thought a lot of us proved ourselves," said Roosevelt receiver Tyrone TeMoney. "And we all had a lot of fun competing. The only part the wasn't fun was losing."
TeMoney had a "glass half full" look, but several of his teammates weren't quite as positive. While they admitted the competition was stiff and the conditions difficult, Flex felt they should have performed better.
"We played well overall, but we didn't capitalize on opportunities we did have," said Flex's quarterback Shawn Petty (Roosevelt). "We could have done a little better."
There might have been some disappointment, but all was not doom and gloom. Several of Flex's stars proved themselves on a national stage, showing out against top competition.
TeMoney, for one, flashed his speed and hands throughout. On one particularly memorable play, he went up for a pass as an opposing defender closed in. The cornerback jumped the route and looked like to have an interception. But TeMoney wrapped his arms around him, ripped the ball away and maintained possession even after his back smacked into the turf.
"I'm not going to lie," TeMoney said, "That was probably the best catch I've ever made."
Rapp agreed, calling the play "ridiculous." But there were others who showed out as well.
Petty, the quarterback, orchestrated the offense and made big pass after big pass. He threw two game-winning touchdown passes with time running down on Sunday.
"Shawn was doing his thing," Rapp said. "He was rocking and rolling."
Victor, meanwhile, was a go-to receiver coming out of the backfield. And wide-outs Dillon Tighe (Arundel), Gerald Sawyer (Northwestern) and Paris Person (Gonzaga) also played well.
But the best receiver, according to Rapp, had to be DuVal tight end Daniel Nwosu, who hauled in numerous touchdown passes.
"Dan ate up the red zone," Rapp said. "He was a force."
Defensively, Flex had a more uneven performance. They let up a few easy scores on Saturday, leading to two key losses. They recovered on Sunday, however, when they finished 2-1.
"Not to use this as an excuse, but we had trouble adjusting to the Texas heat on [Saturday]," said Flex's defensive coordinator Dameon Powell. "We struggled a little at first getting used to it. But we made some adjustments and did very well on [Sunday]. We really came back strong."
Powell identified several players for their superb work. Friendship Collegiate cornerback Jalen Tabor had a few interceptions and knockdowns. Opposite Tabor, Gwen Park cornerback Brandon Banks locked down his side of the field.
St. John's corner Zach Quarles, Northwestern safety John Johnson and Gwynn Park safety Trevaughne Sullivan also performed admirably.
"It was great for these guys to go against top-notch players," Powell said. "It was a real good experience for them, and it's only going to help them in the future."
Flex adopted a business-trip mentality at the 7-on-7, spending most of their time focused on the task at hand. But in-between practices and games, the 20 players had a chance to check out Dallas Stadium and tour around SMU.
"It was pretty cool just being down there," said Victor said. "We got to actually play in Dallas Stadium, and that was awesome. Then we loved SMU. There's a lot of tradition there, and we got to see the statues of Doak Walker and Eric Dickerson."
While the players certainly enjoyed being in Texas and showing off their individual skills in the 7-on-7, that was hardly the most memorable part. Mostly, they liked being with each other.
"We had a lot of fun together as a group," Petty said. "That's probably what I'll remember most - chilling with the guys. It was a great experience."