Kendall Sawyer thought his chances of going to the NFL's High School Player Development National 7-on-7 tournament ended when his East Lee County team was eliminated in a tournament months ago.
Yet here he is, part of a group of Lee County's finest that will get a free ticket to represent the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' region in the national showcase this week in Indianapolis.
"I've never been to nothing like this before," the Jaguars junior said. "The only thing like it was being named an all-star in Pop Warner, but that's not anywhere close to this."
Sawyer got the call when the regional tournament that was to be hosted in Bishop Verot last month had to be canceled for severe weather, which also stymied later efforts to hold the event. So coach Brian Lynch, whose Evangelical Christian team joined Lehigh as qualifiers for that tournament, got the call to help assemble an all-star team.
Joining Sawyer and teammate Winfred Ward are Sentinels Davis Dardaman and Carson Pearlman and Baker's Jeremy Betts and Tyler Iverson. Lynch said it wasn't a tough sell to his new players.
"I think any time you get a free plane ride up to do what you love to do in the backyard anyway, it's a real special treat to get involved," Lynch said.
The player have had just one practice together, and will head up to Tampa today to meet the other half of their squad, which has been assembled from Tampa's top high school players. Lynch will also join up with Bob Henriquez, coach of the Tampa Catholic team that beat Lynch's ECS team for the national berth last year.
Henriquez has been catching Lynch up on what he and his six players are in for this week.
"He said it was an absolute five-star event," Lynch said.
Eric Iverson, who has helped run local NFL events the last three years, agreed.
"In Indy, you get cleats and bags and they treat you like rock stars," said Iverson, who added that a large portion of the HSPD's appeal is its stress on values and leadership.
The Buccaneers squad's odds are hard to gauge. The team has spent little time working together, but Lynch said many teams representing just one school get to this point having used much of their 30- to 50-man roster at qualifying tournaments, then have a major adjustment to get to the national event's 13-man roster limit.
He said they looked good in their lone appearance together.
"We've only had one little get-together, but within an hour we were clicking and everyone was in the right place," Lynch said. "We've got great talent."
Sawyer's less worried about performing at the tournament than just getting there.
"This is my first time on a plane," Sawyer said. "I'm going to try to go to sleep. I'm not going to be looking down, that's for sure."