Competing in their third 7v7 National Championship this weekend, Athletes With Purpose President Michael Ledo still remembers the program's first big competition three years ago.
“We went to Alabama in 2010, the first national event we went to,” Ledo reminisces. “We just got whooped.
“I remember them rolling the ball back to us and telling us, 'Go back to the Midwest where you run the ball.'”
It was an enlightening experience for both the staff and athletes of AWP, who since 2007 had been building towards competing with other 7v7 programs from around the country with some of the best local high school players around.
The confidence was high heading to Alabama, but was shattered abruptly.
“Our kids – whether they play at Churubusco, Bishop Dwenger, Bishop Luers or wherever – they had a sense of entitlement thinking they were better than they were,” Ledo said. “They got humbled.”
AWP Sports came home to regroup. It worked hard to take the program to the next level in every facet, from coaching to training to weightlifting.
For two years, the organization worked towards improving on what it learned in Alabama.
“What we had to do was make a competitive situation in northern Indiana, with competitive tryouts,” Ledo said. “Some of the kids we went up against, football is life (to them). They don't have the financial status or the academic status to get to college without football.
“They play football with a life-and-death mentality.”
AWP worked for two years to better prepare itself for the national 7v7 circuit. In 2012, it qualified for the national championships, determined to change people's opinions of Indiana high school football talent.
It helped that it had a five-star recruit leading the way.
“The year with Jaylon Smith was a big deal,” said Ledo about the former Bishop Luers star and current Notre Dame standout. “We helped him and he helped us quite honestly.”
With Smith moving on to South Bend in 2012, many expected AWP to fade back into obscurity.
Yet here AWP is, appearing in their third straight national championship. Play begins today at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., with the double-elimination round being held on Sunday.
AWP, sponsored by Parkview Sports Medicine, is looking to improve upon a third-place finish a year ago.
Wherever AWP finishes this weekend, it has come a long way since 2010 in Alabama.
“The kids were afraid with a sense of entitlement,” said Ledo about 2010. “Now, they are young men.”
Among the players competing this weekend with AWP in Florida are senior-to-be Justin Tranquill of Carroll and junior-to-be Auston Robertson of Wayne.
Tranquill appeared at Notre Dame's Irish Invasion on Friday before flying to Florida to join AWP. Robertson had an invitation to the private camp but will instead visit South Bend later.