Junior Brett Siebenshuh of Francis Howell HS will handle quarterback duties for the Rams' National Tournament Team.
Starting with a crop of more than 600 local student-athletes, the task of narrowing it down to a crop of 12 to represent the Rams in the seven-on-seven National Tournament in Indianapolis in July was a difficult one.
But the month-long process that began with a series of three High School Player Development camps run by the Ram, local high school football coaches and the Elite Football Academy and ended with a two-hour tryout for a group of 33 hand-picked players Monday night finally came to an end on Tuesday when the lucky dozen were informed of their selection.
“The decision process was not an easy one,” Kyle Eversgerd, the Rams Fan Development coordinator, said. “You are talking about what we feel are the top high school football players in the area, all coming in for a two-hour workout. There is no doubt in my mind that every single one of them could have earned a spot on our National Tournament team. However, much like an NFL roster cut, we had to make decisions. Every student-athlete that attended the workout is going to be a vital part of their respective high school football team this fall.”
Alas, only 12 can make the final roster and only those 12 players will get to take part in the National Tournament from July 12-15 in Indianapolis.
Without further ado, the 12 local athletes representing the Rams in Indianapolis are:
Devin Alexander – JR – Ritenour High School
Bert Birdsall – SR – CBC High School
Keith Brent – SR – Hazelwood Central High School
Tyler Brewer – SR – Fox High School
Greg Gibson – SR – O’Fallon (IL) High School
Brendan Moore – JR – Mehlville High School
Darius Mosely – SR – O’Fallon High School
Zach Muniz – JR – CBC High School
Aarion Penton – SR – CBC High School
Devin Roberts – SR – Warrenton High School
Brett Siebenshuh – JR – Francis Howell High School
Cole Sigmund – SOPH – MICDS High School
Those players all began the process by attending one of the three High School Player Development camps put on in June. Those camps offer skill development courtesy of the instructors from the Elite Football Academy and life lessons from various Rams players and other special guest speakers.
The three camps – one at Parkway Central High, one at Festus High and the other at O’Fallon (Ill.) High – included appearances and instruction from the likes of motivational speaker Paul Vitale, Rams alums Andy McCollum, Arlen Harris, Jamie Martin, Justin Lucas, Pisa Tinoisamoa and Aeneas Williams. Current Rams
Throughout the camps, the emphasis for the players isn’t about making the tournament team but rather on finding ways to develop good habits and work ethic as well as fundamental improvements.
“We do not promote our HSPD camps as ‘come tryout for the National seven-on-seven Tournament Team,’” Eversgerd said. “We purposely do this because we feel each of our camps are great camps and a great experience for local high school football players. On the first night of each camp, we explain the opportunity that is front of them, with an opportunity to travel with the Rams as part of the National Tournament team.”
Along the way, the coaches take note of players that stand out and offer suggestions on which players should get the opportunity to attend the tryout. Those names were pooled to a group of 33 and they were invited to the ContinuityX Training Center on Monday night for the final workout in front of the coaches.
At the end of the night, a group of about eight, including Matt Biermann, the President and Founder of Elite Football Academy, winnowed the field to the final 12.
On Tuesday, all players selected were told they would be part of the team. Now, they will begin preparations for the tournament in Indianapolis, beginning with their first full squad practice Friday night at ContinuityX Training Center.
In the next couple weeks, the team will practice three or four more times before heading to Indianapolis. The Colts will host the tournament at their training facility and all players’ expenses are paid for by the NFL.
Not all of the teams, however, will have come from the H.S.P.D. system. In fact, the Rams are one of a handful of teams in the league to work directly with the H.S.P.D.
The H.S.P.D. program has produced a number of current NFL players, including Carolina quarterback Cam Newton, Baltimore running back Ray Rice and current Rams tackle Ojinnaka, among many others.
“The primary focus of the NFL H.S.P.D. program is character development and life skills," Eversgerd said. "We share the numbers of how many high school football players do not make it to the NFL every day in our camps, and that is important for our participants to focus on being great men and even better students. At the same time, it is amazing to see the looks on high school football athletes faces when we show them pictures of Cam Newton and Ray Rice at an HSPD camp when they were in high school. Ojinnaka spoke to our camp at Festus High School and having someone that actually attended the HSPD Camp specifically goes a long way with the athletes."
In addition to the selection of the Rams’ Tournament Team, the Rams also selected six local players to take part in the Linemen Leadership Program.
Those six student-athletes are:
Brandon Barton – SR – Festus High School
Jonathan Bonner – JR – Parkway Central High School
Chris Simmons – JR – Mehlville High School
Chris Watkins – SR – Wesclin High School
Cody Watz – SR – Fox High School
Donnie White, Jr. – SR – DeSmet High School
The Linemen Leadership Program is intended to give linemen an opportunity to participate as well considering that seven-on-seven-tournaments generally are designed for skill positions.
This year’s Linemen Leadership Program also will take place in Indianapolis and emphasizes three key areas: the classroom, the community and leadership competitions.
For the classroom portion, the NFL’s Player Engagement Department will offer intensive character development and life skills training to the players. The linemen will then get an opportunity to give back to the community by working with special needs individuals in what is called the “Dream Season” portion of the program.
Finally, for the competitive part of their training, the linemen will participate in a series of obstacle courses and activities led by the Indiana National Guard at Camp Atterbury.
The six linemen representing the Rams were chosen on the basis of their work ethic, character and leadership skills. Two players were selected from each of the three camps and all have a Grade Point Average above 2.5 with at least an 80 percent attendance record at their respective high schools.
Players were chosen on those criteria plus the recommendation of their coaches.
“The Linemen Leadership Program is a program the NFL is beginning this year alongside the seven-on-seven tournament," Eversgerd said. "Only six NFL markets will be represented in the inaugural year and it is an honor to be a part of that group. This gives the big men at our camps the opportunity to enjoy the fruits of taking a trip with the Rams to a national event. We feel we have a group of outstanding gentlemen joining us in Indianapolis this July and I have no doubt they will represent St. Louis high school football very well.”