Millions of teenagers compete in high school football every year, and a fraction of those young men go on to play at the college level. Only a select few of those athletes will ever get the opportunity to wear an NFL uniform.
On Sunday, 13-year-old Matthew Doran of West Melbourne, Florida will pull on a Tampa Bay Buccaneers jersey and trot out onto an NFL field after overcoming similarly steep odds. From an original pool of more than 3.5 million contestants, Doran is one of 32 finalists in this year's NFL Punt, Pass and Kick competition.
Doran, one of four young athletes vying for the national title in the Boys age 12-13 group, will represent the Buccaneers during an on-field award presentation after the third quarter of Sunday's AFC Divisional Playoff Game between the New York Jets and San Diego Chargers. The ceremony will be broadcast live by CBS, which is airing Sunday's game at Qualcomm Stadium...coincidentally the home of the Buccaneers' greatest triumph - victory in Super Bowl XXXVII.
The actual finals competition will take place before the game. Doran will battle Zach Hooker of Fort Collins, Colorado (representing the Denver Broncos), Scott McCormick of Flat Rock, Michigan (Detroit Lions) and Jeremy Wiegandt of Larimore, North Dakota (Minnesota Vikings).
Finalists will compete separately in four age divisions each for boys and girls (8-9, 10-11, 12-13, 14-15). The top scorer in each group will be crowned national champion. All participants launch one punt, one pass and one kick, with scores based on distance and accuracy (in feet). All 32 youngsters advanced to the National Finals through local, sectional and team championship competitions held throughout the NFL regular season. Doran was one of the top four scorers in his age group from around the country.
NFL Punt, Pass and Kick (PPK), which began in 1961, is the nation's largest grassroots sports skills competition.
"The NFL Punt, Pass and Kick program gives millions of girls and boys around the country a way to be active participants in the game of football," said NFL Senior Vice President of Events Frank Supovitz. "We are pleased to see so many of our young fans entering football through this program."
There are several former PPK participants on the Buccaneers' current roster, including quarterback Josh Freeman, running back Earnest Graham and running back/kick returner Clifton Smith. They can identify with Doran and the excitement he is surely feeling as he heads off to San Diego for the finals.
"Punt, Pass and Kick was a fun event as a kid that I looked forward to every year," said Graham, a native of Fort Myers, Florida. "It's a great showcase for youth that promotes competition in a positive environment. I wish Matthew the best of luck on Sunday."
All participants and their guest are provided airfare, hotel accommodations and tickets to the AFC Divisional Playoff Game in San Diego.
Below is a list of all 32 PPK finalists, with the team that hosted their regional competition in parentheses:
Sara Braun, Brillion, WI (Packers)
Shelby Downard, Marysville, KS (Chiefs)
Aysia Mitchell, Mesquite, TX (Cowboys)
Coley Rezabek, Long Lake, MN (Vikings)
Rondo Hernandez, Worland, WY (Broncos)
Bryson Hudgens, Decorah, IA (Vikings)
Harrison Wellmann, College Station, TX (Texans)
Tyler Yoder, Temecula, CA (Chargers)
Lalelei Mataafa, Lahaina, HI (Chargers)
Jordan Remley, Arvada, CO (Broncos)
Cierra Walker, Oregon City, OR (Seahawks)
Brooklyn Wolosyn, Niagara, WI (Packers)
Derek Knotek, Prescott, AZ (Cardinals)
Micah Potter, Mentor, OH (Browns)
Jay Small, Hinton, IA (Vikings)
Jonathan Temple, Turlock, CA (Raiders)
Tyra Buss, Mount Carmel, IL (Rams)
Alexandra Greer, El Dorado, AR (Saints)
Kayla Hochhalter, Carrington ND (Vikings)
Alexus Strayhorn, Virginia Beach, VA (Redskins)
Matthew Doran, West Melbourne, FL (Buccaneers)
Zach Hooker, Fort Collins, CO (Broncos)
Scott McCormick, Flat Rock, MI (Lions)
Jeremy Wiegandt, Larimore, ND (Vikings)
Mikala Gordon, Pueblo, CO (Broncos)
Jillian Maloney, Alpharetta, GA (Falcons)
Cassie Miller, Cave Creek, AZ (Cardinals)
Catelyn Preston, Oregon City, OR (Seahawks)
Dominic Berlin, Eau Claire, WI (Packers)
Andrew Buckley, Concord, CA (Raiders)
Casey Kelly, Red Lion, PA (Eagles)
Austin Riley, Alamo TN (Titans)
NFL Punt, Pass and Kick is part of NFL Youth Football, which provides ways for children to play, watch and experience the game of football. For more information, visit www.NFLYouthfootball.com, the NFL's official youth football website.