After beating out eight other high school teams in a regional tournament in Oakland, the Falcons flew to Indianapolis to represent the Oakland Raiders in the 32-team national event as part of the NFL’s High School Player Development Program.
“It was a lot of fun,” said Freedom head coach Kevin Hartwig. “Just spending time together with them outside of football I think really helped them build camaraderie.”
The Falcons played 10 non-contact games in three days at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center, finishing 5-5 and one game short of the top eight teams. Booker T. Washington High School, which represented the Miami Dolphins, won the event.
“Most of the teams were all-stars teams, but I think we did good,” said halfback Joe Mixon.
The journey was as much about learning about how to succeed in life as it was about playing football.
All 384 players who competed in the tournament completed a character-development program that promoted excellence in the classroom, community and on the football field.
Through speakers, breakout sessions and group activities at Freedom in May and again at the national tournament, Falcon players learned about academic success, decision-making, stress management and staying healthy. In May they received a visit from Raiders running back Taiwan Jones, who spoke about respect. Jones graduated from Deer Valley High School in 2007.
Freedom was chosen based on interest from the school, coaches, and the community.
Hartwig chose 19 players to participate in the regional tournament and then cut the team to 12 for the national event June 12-15. Players who exemplified responsibility and hard work were chosen by Hartwig and his assistant coaches to participate in the event.
“We chose the kids that didn’t miss a workout and did everything we asked,” Hartwig said. “The NFL paid for everything, so it was a real reward for doing everything we asked.”
Just getting to Indianapolis was an accomplishment. Freedom won six scrimmages on June 9 in a regional tournament that featured James Logan, San Leandro, Skyline, Oakland, Liberty, Encinal, Concord and Tennyson high schools.
From taking off to Indianapolis at 3:30 a.m. to sleeping four players to a room, spending three days together with Hartwig and assistant coach Ryan Seto brought the team together.
“Just to be able to bond with our team was a great part of it,” said wide receiver Darrell Daniels.
For short periods of time, the team was treated like members of the National Football League. They received gear courtesy of the program as well as got to work out at the training facilities of the Indianapolis Colts.
This was the ninth year the tournament took place, and the first time it included representatives from all 32 National Football League teams.