McCORDSVILLE — A pair of Mt. Vernon Middle School seventh-grade football players — running back Donivan Wright and defensive end Dalton Davis — recently helped lead Team Indiana to the top tier of the Football University program.
Their final game, the Seventh Grade National Championship semifinal game, took place at Wheatley Heights Sports Complex in San Antonio against South Florida. The South Florida team swamped Indiana with a high-powered defense, and the local boys finished third in the tournament of 64.
“It would be great to win it all, but it was really great to get to play for that team, and that type of talent,” Donivan said. “We got to play against different people from different states, to see how good I really am.”
Football University is an invitation-only football training experience that encourages players to focus on developing abilities and attaining elite-level skills. Team Indiana defeated North Wisconsin, Illinois, Maryland and South Connecticut in the Football University national tourney before traveling to San Antonio for the finals.
Indiana faced Seattle in its semifinal at the Wheatley Heights Sports Complex, while Iowa battled South Florida in the other semifinal match. At that point, the group of seventh-graders had only known and practiced with each other for a few weeks.
“We just kind of met, and didn’t really know each other. By the end in San Antonio, we were all best friends,” Dalton said.
Dalton and Donivan have known each other since elementary school and played together on their seventh-grade Mt. Vernon team.
“We were playing sports together,” Donivan said. “We played against each other, but we were really good friends then, too.”
In a game against Noblesville last year, they were approached and recruited for Football University’s program, after a game in which they both excelled. At that point, they knew very little about the organization.
Since they have joined Football University, the boys impressed their parents with how well they handled themselves in San Antonio. They took the tournament seriously and stayed focused.
“These kids were very respectful. Even when they lost to South Florida,” Dalton’s father, Robin Davis, said.
The South Florida quarterback had never before been sacked. Dalton sacked him twice in their game. The game could have gotten ugly a few times, but the boys wanted to maintain their dignity.
“The scoreboard is one thing, but the way they handle themselves in everyday life; they’re just a good bunch of kids,” Dalton’s mom, Annie Davis, said.
It was a good chance to spend time together as a family but also as a character-shaping activity for the boys.
“We had a fabulous time. It was well worth the trip, and the entire experience was something; you just don’t get that kind of opportunity every day,” Donivan’s mom, Koleki Wright, said. “Bittersweet, but extremely proud. It was really a character builder for him.”
Football University has had camps all over the country, but having a tournament and championship game is something the organization has just recently begun. Getting the wins was only half the battle for Team Indiana.
“A first-year program might struggle here and there, so when we swept the East, we never dreamed of being in the final four,” Annie Davis said.
Many team parents were caught off guard by the team’s success, especially when the boys had only just met.
“They gelled. It’s unlike any football experience we’ve ever had,” Robin Davis said. “These kids just meshed and all played for each other. Not one of them is a showboat.”
The 23 boys on the team had to come up with funds and travel arrangements quickly for the Football University tournament. The window to make that happen was just two weeks.
“We all became a family quick,” Annie Davis said. “With two weeks to plan, it was get there however you can.”
The experience at Football University — compared to playing for MV — was unique for Donivan and Dalton as well.
“They’re similar in some ways, but probably the main difference is this is way more serious,” Dalton said. “Practices are harder — more contact, more focus.”
“There’s harder hitting. It gives you a very good experience and you learn a lot,” he said.
Dalton wears No. 56, same as the badge number of family friend and Lawrence police officer Craig Herbert, who was killed in the line of duty in 2005. To wear that number, he has squeezed into jerseys too small and switched to jerseys that weren’t his.
“We were lucky to get the number in this caliber of competition,” Robin Davis said.
Both boys said they were happy with the third-place finish, but they plan on returning next year and doing even better.
“It’s definitely something I want to keep doing,” Dalton said.
More time to prepare with a third-place finish under their belt can only make them better next year.
“Dalton is very focused. They went down there to play football, and that was it,” Robin Davis said.
Donivan’s mother said the experience was good for her son.
“He’s 13. He would have loved to be No. 1, of course. But in the big scheme of things, he knows what it took to get here,” Koleki Wright said. “Even if it was just to say we were good enough to make it to San Antonio.”