Top QB defends IMG 7-on-7 titleMichigan recruit Morris headlines star-studded event

jdill@bradenton.comJune 30, 2012 

BRADENTON -- He slung a couple passes low, missing the square mesh target set up some 15 yards away.

It wasn’t much of a display of the powerful left arm he possesses.

And it altered the high praise of his game not a bit.

That’s because Shane Morris was throwing in a skills challenge on the eve of this weekend’s IMG Madden 7-on-7 National Championship at IMG Academies.

Morris thrives where it counts the most: in games.

Morris, the No. 2-rated quarterback in the country by Rivals.com and Scout.com, and his Maximum Exposure Gold teammates from the Detroit area claimed last year’s Madden title over Team Tampa.

“You can hear people talk about it everywhere,” said Morris about entering the tournament with a target on his back. “‘Oh that’s Detroit, they won it last year.’ ... Team Tampa is still a little upset that we beat them in the championship.”

Morris, a pro-style quarterback, was one of several players who gathered at the private Bradenton sports campus Friday for the Cam Newton Skills Challenge, with the Carolina Panthers quarterback hosting the event and providing some animated commentary as an emcee during the QB Challenge.

Newton was unavailable to the media after the event.

Morris hails from Warren, Mich., which is a suburb of Detroit. His ability to decipher defenses and throw a deep ball are reasons why the college offers started pouring in his sophomore year.

Despite interest from heavyweight football programs like Alabama, Morris committed to the University of Michigan in 2011 and has stayed true to his word.

“I grew up a Michigan fan, and it was really close to my house,” said Morris, whose club 7-on-7 team features a few guys also committed to the Wolverines. “And my family can come watch me play.”

With such high expectations, there is inherit pressure.

Former Heisman Trophy winner Chris Weinke, who is IMG’s football director, understands what Morris is going through.

“The bull’s-eye is on him,” said Weinke, who played at Florida State and in the NFL with the Panthers. “He’s being evaluated in everything he does. He came here last year and won our 7-on-7. So everybody knows who he is. He’s a highly recruited and highly touted guy. And what comes with that is pressure. And obviously, any mistakes he makes gets magnified. And whenever he does something well, they expect it from him. So he’s an even-keel kid, great kid. I think he has great ability. He’s better in a game-type of situation than he is just watching him throw.”

Starting Saturday, Morris has the platform to showcase his talents as the 6-foot-3 southpaw attempts to guide his club team to back-to-back national titles.

The tournament is broken into two divisions: high school and club.

The club teams are essentially all-star squads, made up of players from various places.

For example, Team Tampa, which lost in the title game last year, features Manatee High’s JaJuan Pollack as well as several Seffner Armwood players and others from the Tampa Bay area.

The 25-team field represents 10 states, and many prized college recruits will vie for the championship. Team warm-ups begin at 10:30 a.m. Saturday with pool play beginning at 10:45 a.m. The title game is set for 3:45 p.m. Sunday.

A team from Louisiana, called the Bootleggers, have four LSU commits in wide receiver John Diarse, athlete Tre’Davious White, defensive back Jeryl Brazil and defensive back Jeremy Cutrer.

The only local team entered is Palmetto High.

The public is welcome to attend, and admission is free.

“We’re excited about the direction we’re going,” Weinke said. “There’s a lot to be said of our events team that put this together. And when you put a good product out there, people want to be a part of it.”

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