Those four seconds and the pressure to guide their team to the NFL 7-on-7 National Tournament, presented by the National Guard, is what eight quarterbacks and their teammates faced on Sat., June 19, at the Packers' second annual Youth Football Tournament inside the Don Hutson Center.
After a round-robin portion of the bracket, Ashwaubenon worked its way through a single-elimination bracket and pulled out an exciting 48-42 overtime victory against Edgar. The second-seeded Jaguars used a superb defensive effort, prior to completing a heart-pounding fourth-and-5 pass-and-catch in the back of the end zone, to punch its ticket to the big dance.
Ashwaubenon and its 12 members will receive an all-expenses-paid trip to Tampa, Fla., to compete against 21 other high school teams that will be representing an NFL franchise. The tournament takes place on July 10-11, but the Jaguars will also experience a community service and character development conference before the competition begins.
"After we won the tournament the whole team went crazy with excitement," Jaguar quarterback Austin Kassner said. "We were almost in disbelief that we were going to be representing the Packers in Tampa. It means a lot to us to be able to represent the Packers at the national tournament. We get the opportunity to show the nation how we play football up here."
In all, eight teams battled on the gridiron for nearly seven hours before the Jaguars won the championship. Big Foot, which traveled three hours from near the Illinois border, competed with Bay Port, Preble, Wrightstown, Edgar and a representative from each of the two High School Player Development camps the Packers held within the last month in Green Bay and Milwaukee.
"Playing six games in one day took a lot of effort on everyone's part," Kassner said. "Monday morning, at our summer workout all the guys were still exhausted from Saturday's games. I was really proud of the team because we all picked each other up when the day was getting long and everyone gave it their all every game.
"Everyone on our team grew up less than ten minutes from Lambeau, we were born Packer fans. Because of this I do feel like there is a special meaning behind representing the Packers. We grew up watching them, and now that we have the chance to represent the team down in Tampa is truly a dream come true."
The High School Player Development program is comprised of fundamental skill development by position. The program is operated over a one-week period (two hours per day) from May to August, depending on the state and local high school rules.
During the character development portion of the camp, the student-athletes are taught the importance of preparing for standardized tests and maintaining a strong grand-point average. They also taught skills to succeed in life after football, and more importantly after high school.
The Packers invited former 12-year veteran Rob Davis, the team's current director of player development, to discuss a few key points with the campers prior to the start of the tournament. Davis spoke on topics such as academics, teamwork, being an active citizen, having a lunch-pail attitude, being emotionally intelligent and the importance of what goes into your body.
Davis can attest to the difficulties of having a successful career in professional football, as he was cut four times before eventually earning a contract with the Chicago Bears for one season and then finishing his career with the Packers.
"Rob relates to the younger group so well," said Tim Schroeder youth football coordinator. "His motivational words aren't directed to a general audience, he keeps it specific to these kids. Especially to the kids that came from the same lifestyle he grew up in, or if they didn't, they can appreciate his words and thoughts. He talked about his path to the NFL and I think the biggest thing is how many times he was ultimately cut before making it with an NFL team. These kids can hear that he was cut four times and things may not work out in football or life and that he had a successful 12-year NFL career."
Prior to the regional H.S.P.D. 7-on-7 tournament the Packers held two free football skills camps – Green Bay and Milwaukee – to more than 150 athletes. The camps, in conjunction with the National Guard, gave high school-aged athletes the chance to learn drills and techniques, on their respective position, from invited collegiate coaches.
"It was a great camp for athletes to show off their skills, especially because it was free," said Roy Kratt, camp site manager. "I had parents tell me that their son received as much instruction from this free H.S.P.D. camp as they did from a camp they paid $250 to attend. Everyone who attended was appreciative to be a part of a camp of this caliber."
The camps had a classroom component that worked on character building and life skills. It also helped the student-athletes learn about football and life.
"I hope to see the athletes at these camps eventually playing for the college coaches who were on hand instructing the drills," Kratt said, an assistant varsity football coach at Byron HS in Minnesota. "The Packers played a huge part in making these camps run smoothly and I was glad to see the H.S.P.D. team from each camp performed well at the regional 7-on-7 tournament."
Each camp was a total of 10 hours and divided between three days. The H.S.P.D. camp can hold up to 300 players and is offered all across the USA for student-athletes going into grades 9-12. Athletes receive an H.S.P.D. planner and jersey. They receive quality coaching by high school and college coaches (depending on the time of year) and college players. Players and teams can qualify to be on 7-on-7 teams that can compete at a regional and a national tournament.
The Green Bay camp, held June 11-13, was inside the Lambeau Field Legends Club and Don Hutson Center. On the other hand, the Milwaukee camp, held June 14-16, was inside Milwaukee Custer Stadium.