Rams excel at NFL 7-on-7 tourney

Published 11:45 pm Tuesday, July 17, 2012



EDGARD – West St. John has become something of a power in 7-on-7 competition over the past two summers. The Rams took their show on the road over the weekend.

Representing the New Orleans Saints at this past weekend’s NFL-National Guard 7-on-7 National Championship in Indianapolis, the Rams went 7-2 and entered the playoffs as the top seed in the “NFC South” bracket before bowing out to Carolina, 17-10, in their final playoff game.

“I’m just happy with the way our kids competed,” said West St. John coach Robert Valdez. “They love to compete. This was a big time atmosphere and our guys rose to the occasion.”

The tournament took place at the indoor practice facility of the Indianapolis Colts. Each NFL team was represented at the tournament by a local team from its region.

The Rams earned their spot at the tourney by besting all comers last month at the New Orleans Saints’ annual 7-on-7 tournament. They defeated two-time defending champion Hahnville in the championship game of that tournament.

West St. John returned to Edgard having established itself as the most successful Saints’ representative to date; the Rams’ seven wins are the most ever for a  New Orleans-based squad at the event.

Valdez said that while he’s grown accustomed to his team’s success in these events, sometimes his players still manage to surprise him.

“It’s like when you watch your kids in something and, you’re proud of them, but you just really don’t grasp how good they can be. You see these other players, and they look the part … but then you line up and your kids are out there making plays. And then you’re saying, ‘Wow, we’ve got a shot at this thing.’”

West St. John went 4-1 in its first day of pool competition. On day two, the Rams defeated the Tennessee Titans team in overtime, then the Jacksonville Jaguars before playoff competition began.

The Rams bested the Tampa Bay Buccaneers team in their first round playoff game, overcoming a 10-point deficit to do so.

That game will be featured in an NFL Films production slated to hit the airwaves in August.

The Buccaneers were an All-Star select 7-on-7 team. That ran in contrast to West St. John, which Valdez estimated was one of the lone Class 1A schools in the tournament.  

The Rams overcame the loss of Kylum Favorite late in the tournament. The star rusher has been a standout pass receiver, but was sidelined for precautionary reasons with a minor injury .

Valdez said defenders Dontre Turner and Justin Bethancourt did a strong job filling in on the offensive side of the ball.

Quarterback Austin Howard also played both ways, earning time at safety. He intercepted four passes at the event, and continued his maturation as the team’s starting quarterback.

Valdez said that while the Rams have had tremendous skill talent in the past, the team’s rapid progress from its successful summer of a year ago to now has much to do with Howard’s experience level, as the soon to be junior started all of last season and in a number of games as a freshman.

“With his growth, we’ve got an experienced quarterback that allows us to open things up beyond what we’ve done,” said Valdez. “Our wide receiving corps this year is turned over from a year ago. We had some tremendous players graduate. But Austin’s maturation is a big reason why we’ve been able to build upon our momentum.”

The success also extended to West St. John’s younger players over the weekend. With the varsity in Indianapolis, it was unable to fulfill its commitment at LSU’s 7-on-7 tournament as scheduled. In their stead, Valdez sent a group of younger players, who went 3-1 at the tourney.

The weekend stood as the Rams’ last 7-on-7 work of the summer, one that reinforced the strong expectations held by a Rams team that finished as Class 1A runner-up last season, and that no doubt has its supporters more than ready for the fall to come.

“I really just wish we could start the season tomorrow,” said Valdez. “I’m ready.”