State and regional recognition has been pretty standard for the Next Level Greats 7-on-7 competition and football training program since its founding a few years ago.
But the organization that has become a hothouse for the growth of many of South Jersey’s top prospects took a significant step forward when one of NLG’s 18U teams captured the national championship earlier this month at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.
“We’re the first team from the Northeast ever to win a [7-on-7] national championship,” NLG founder Marcus Hammond said. “It’s very unique for our area. People always think Florida, Texas, California when it comes to the top talent, the top teams.
“These guys showed that our state, and South Jersey, can compete at that level.”
The NLG3 team won the national title at the tournament June 15-16 by twice beating a B2G team that featured highly touted players from Los Angeles and Miami, according to Hammond.
In the tournament’s championship game, former Camden star Corey Palmer, who now attends IMG, secured the victory by knocking down a B2G attempt at a two-point conversion.
Palmer, a 2022 wide receiver and defensive back, played with the NLG3 team during tournaments in the South.
Other standouts for the NLG3 team that finished ranked No. 1 in the nation by NFA77.com, the organization that runs 7-on-7 tournaments across the country, included Woodrow Wilson 2022 quarterback Devin Kargman and 2022 wide receiver/defensive back Amari Clark, Camden 2021 wide receiver/defensive back Alijah Clark, Camden 2021 wide receiver/defensive back Duce Chestnut, and Willingboro 2020 wide receiver/defensive back Chris Long.
The team also featured Milford Prep 2020 wide receiver/defensive back Naiem Simmons, who played last year at Woodrow Wilson, as well as Woodrow Wilson 2020 linebacker/running back Muheem McCargo, Atlantic City 2021 linebacker Corey Yeoman, Millville 2020 linebacker Shamore Collins, Willingboro 2021 linebacker Demie Sumo, and Penns Grove 2021 wide receiver/defensive back Nasir Robinson.
“It was really exciting because we were missing some of our players and still won it,” said Chestnut, who has scholarship offers from Baylor, Maryland, North Carolina State, Rutgers and Temple, among other programs. “We showed we could play against anybody in the country.”
The burgeoning growth of 7-on-7 all-star teams that compete in regional tournaments across the country as well as the national championships that are staged every summer at IMG has been likened by football coaches to the sport’s version of AAU basketball.
Hammond, a former Sterling quarterback and North Carolina A&T graduate, said 7-on-7 is a “club sport” that complements high school competition. NLG, which holds many of its workouts at the Total Turf facility in Pitman, also offers individual training, promotes academic development, and includes college visits as part of its travel schedule, Hammond said.
The organization attracts many of South Jersey’s top players, and the spring 7-on-7 tournament season, which ended with the national championships, has become an important part of the college football recruiting scene.
Hammond said the NLG1 team, which featured Willingboro 2021 quarterback Au-Shaun Davis, who has a Temple offer, finished ranked No. 4 in the country by NFA77.com.
But it was the victory by NLG3 that raised the profile of the organization and, by extension, the entire region, according to Hammond.
“There’s always been this feeling that players from our area are not going to be as fast, as athletic, as used to this level of competition as players from Florida or Texas,” Hammond said. “It always was, a four-star [recruit] from New Jersey wasn’t as good as a three-star from Florida.