An early version of the Battle of Ohio gets underway Friday when a team representing the Bengals plays its first of what coach Dale Sturgill hopes is 11 games in the NFL's 7-on-7 National Tournament at the Cleveland Browns practice facility in Berea, Ohio.
Sturgill says the Bengals have sent them on their way in style with boxes full of gear from equipment managers Jeff Brickner and Adam Knollman, as well as the Bengals Pro Shop.
"They've given us some great stuff," Sturgill said. "Polo jerseys, shorts, T-shirts, hats. We're going to look good."
Sturgill's team, stocked by high school players from Cincinnati as well as Louisville and Lexington in Kentucky, hopes to avenge last year's loss to the Cleveland team in a tournament they placed seventh. With three returning players that have nearly combined 20 Division 1 offers, Sturgill thinks his team has a shot to advance to Saturday's finals in the Browns stadium to cap the 24-team event.
"Our strength is our speed. We're very, very fast and athletic and we've got four guys over 6-2," said Sturgill, a Cincinnati native who is offensive coordinator at Louisville's Doss High School.
The 12-man roster was culled from the NFL's High School Player Development Camps in the Cincinnati area with selections based on character, leadership and skills. So Sturgill already knows he's getting a team filled with the intangibles on his depth chart of quarterbacks, wide receivers, running backs, linebackers and defensive backs.
"We go off coaches' recommendations and we look at grades," Sturgill said. "All our kids have exemplary grades. They're carrying at least a 3.0 and they're all eligible to play at the NCAA level."
Jalin Marshall, who has drawn 13 Division I offers while playing quarterback at Middletown High School in Ohio, is lining up at wide receiver/defensive back like his Middletown teammate Zack Edwards, a receiver/DB with six Division I offers who also played on the team last year that traveled to Tampa, Fla. Their quarterback is the other returner, Jared Nauert out of Louisville's DeSales High School.
He's throwing to some other tall fast guys, such as a pair of big receivers from Cincinnati Colerain High School in 6-2 Andre Jones and 6-3 Trevon Hudson. Their teammate, 6-3 Joe Bolden, mans middle linebacker while a junior out of Louisville's Central High School, 5-10 Taeshawn Gibbs, adds more speed at wide receiver.