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July 16, 2004COLLEGE STATION, Texas - Football is a religion in Texas, and Friday's first day of the FoxSportsNet Texas 7-on-7 State championship presented by adidas was a great chance for pigskin disciples to be born again.
With five-star prospects like tight end Martellus Bennett and several of the state's top teams doing battle in the 64-team tournament, it was pure football heaven.
Pool play in the tournament took place Friday afternoon at Texas A&M with each team playing three games. Among the teams that went unbeaten were defending seven-on-seven state champion Odessa Permian, south Texas power Bay City, defending 5A state champion Katy and Grandbury out of the Metroplex.
Play continues at 8 a.m. Saturday with the start of the 32-team consolation tournament. The 32-team championship tournament begins at 9 a.m. and will finish with the title game at 5 p.m. Saturday at Kyle Field.
Permian rolled though pool play behind the hot arm of senior quarterback Shea Smith. Bay City had a potent offense and defense, but linebacker Terrance Flagg was especially impressive. Grandbury used an overall team effort to show that the Pirates should be a team to reckon with after a 2-8 2003 season. Katy, who was 15-1 last year, was led by linebacker Paul Thornton.
While plenty of teams had great success on the field, plenty of high-profile recruits were able to strut their stuff on a big-time stag against other big-time players.
The highest-ranked prospect at the camp was Bennett, the nation's top tight end and Miami commitment. Bennett, who is 6-foot-7 and 237 pounds, was a one-man wrecking crew for Alief Taylor. Despite a struggling quarterback, Bennett was still the go-to-man any time Lions needed a big play.
Time after time, Bennett was able to out leap helpless defenders and come up with impressive catches. He also got plenty of opportunities to catch the ball on the run and turn them into solid yards after a catch with moves that would make James Brown proud.
Bennett was bothered with reoccurring pain in his knee, but when it came time to snap the football he was always ready to, proving why he's a five-star prospect.
There has never been any doubt that Henry Melton of Grapevine was one of the most impressive looking recruits in the nation. Melton, a ripped 6-3 and 250-plus pounds, wants a shot at playing running back in college but with his athletic ability he can play a number of different positions.
How about receiver?
With running the ball against the rules in seven-on-seven play, Melton was forced to line up at receiver, where he was able to showcase his size, speed and overall football skill to prove why he's ranked as the nation's No. 90 player and a four-star prospect. Melton, who said he's looking only at in-state schools like Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, definitely impressed despite not playing in his natural position.
There is little doubt that Pflugerville standout Todd Walker is one of the nation's top athletes and worthy of a Rivals100 ranking, but at times the 6-2, 185-pounder struggled at quarterback on Friday. But Walker wasn't the only one on his team that struggled with the Panthers dropping several games by a lopsided margin.
Put at a position where he could use his athletic ability - possibly as a receiver - Walker could be truly special on the next level and he showed that Friday.
One of the most exciting battles of the day happened during the first game of the tournament when Houston Westside athlete R.J. Jackson went head-to-head against Sulphur Springs safety Keenan Clayton.
Where ever Jackson went, Clayton went.
Over the middle, deep, or on the short routes, whichever route Jackson ran, Clayton was there sticking with him like glue. Clayton often never gave Jackson a chance to get open, causing Westside quarterback Marcus Jackson to look at other options.
But as the game moved on, Jackson found several opportunities to get open and he took advantage of them with a couple big touchdown catches.
All in all, Clayton got the best of Jackson several times with his physical play and great coverage ability.
And Jackson continued to work hard and never gave up and eventually he got his opportunities.
It was a stalemate, which is what you expect when you pit two four-star recruits and Texas' best against each other.
This could be an interesting battle to follow also in college, because Clayton is leaning heavily toward Oklahoma and Jackson really likes Texas.
Lufkin running back Jovorksie Lane moved from the backfield to receiver Friday and looked impressive. Lane, who looked be a little heavier than his listed 240 pounds, looked good in several breakaway situations when he was able to fly down the field and get open.
Still, Lane didn't get a chance to showcase his true ability as a running back carrying the ball. With his big-frame, it was kind of hard for him to truly show how special he is in a seven-on-seven setting but when he did get thrown the ball he did do a very good job.