Matthew Edelman of New Port Richey, one of only four national finalists in the Boys Age 14-15 group, believes passing to be his strong suit
In every press box during every NFL game, from the preseason through the playoffs, there is at least one constant. Somewhere among all the reporters and league officials will sit a group of pro scouts, carefully and quietly creating detailed reports on future opponents for their own teams. Pro scouts are determined to evaluate the talents of every player that steps on the field.
Here's a hint to the scouts covering this Saturday's AFC Divisional Playoff game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Tennessee Titans: Get there early.
Before the Steelers and Titans take the field on Saturday afternoon, 32 boys and girls ranging in age from eight to 15 will show off the type of football skills that today's pros nurtured during their youth. Scouts take note – somewhere among these 32 youngsters might be the next Tom Tupa, Brett Favre or Matt Stover.
Just as those current punting, passing and kicking NFL stars were years ago, the 32 young athletes who will be on display Saturday in Nashville are standout performers in the famous NFL Gatorade Punt, Pass and Kick competition. These 32 are the national finalists among 3.5 million kids who competed in Punt, Pass and Kick in 2002-03.
And among those 32, for the first time ever, are three youngsters representing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Savannah Stona of Safety Harbor, Lindsay Thompson of Bradenton and Matthew Edelman of New Port Richey will all don Buccaneer colors on Sunday as they strive to claim the top spots in their respective age groups. Only the New England Patriots, with four finalists, are sending more local representatives to Nashville this weekend.
Matthew, for one, is proud to be competing in the name of the Buccaneers.
"That's a playoff game in Tennessee," he said. "It's going to feel pretty good knowing that my favorite team, the team I'm representing, is in the playoffs, too."
A multi-sports participant at Hudson High School, Matthew had just come off the soccer field on Tuesday when he stopped to contemplate Saturday's competition. Despite his obvious soccer skills, he says his best portion of the competition is the passing drill.
"I'm pretty nervous but I think I've got a good shot," said Matthew. "I didn't think I had a shot (when I competed in PPK) last year, but I think I'm ready this year."
Only four boys and four girls made the finals in each of four age groups. Matthew Edelman will compete for the age 14-15 title with Patrick McAfee of Pittsburgh, Robert Anderson of Westerly, Rhode Island and fellow Floridian P.J. Fitzgerald of Coral Springs. Last year's winner in this age group, Brandon Gee of Athens, Pennsylvania, a Bills representative, threw the football 152 feet, one inch, punted it 117 feet, two inches and kicked it 72 feet eight inches for a combined score of 341 feet, 11 inches.
Savannah Stona is one of the four finalists in the girls age 8-9 bracket. She will compete with Hannah Carson of Mesa, Arizona, Katlyn Cleaver of Iola, Kansas and Alex Kotter of Vincennes, Indiana. Merisa Rudy of Philadelphia, representing the Eagles, won this age group last year with a combined score of 207 feet, three inches.
Lindsay Thompson is one of the top four girls in the nation in the age 12-13 bracket, along with Natalie Baumgardt of Mosinee, Wisconsin, Krista Donnenwirth of Mission Viejo, California and Caroline Vatelle of Sandwich, Massachusetts. Ashley Edinger of Michigan City, Indiana, representing the Colts, was the 12-13 girls champion last year with a combined mark of 259 feet, 10 inches.
The 2002-03 finals will take place before Saturday's game. A special live, on-field award presentation will air between the third and fourth quarters of the AFC Divisional Playoff Game's 4:30 p.m. ET CBS telecast.
NFL Gatorade Punt, Pass and Kick is the nation's largest grassroots sports skills competition. Boys and girls compete separately in four age divisions (8-9, 10-11, 12-13, 14-15), with the top scorer in each group being crowned National Champion. All participants launch one punt, one pass and one kick, with scores based on distance minus accuracy (in feet). All 32 youngsters advanced to the National Finals through local, sectional and team championship competitions held throughout the NFL regular season. Only the top four scores in each age group from around the country qualify as NFL Gatorade Punt, Pass and Kick National Finalists.
"The NFL Gatorade Punt, Pass and Kick program is one way we introduce the game of football to millions of girls and boys around the country," said NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue. "We continue to see more kids participate which bodes well for the future of the game."
Lindsay, Savannah, Matthew and the other 29 finalists, plus two guests each, will be provided airfare, hotel accommodations and tickets to the Titans-Steelers. In addition, all finalists will be treated to an awards banquet.
To follow NFL Gatorade Punt, Pass and Kick action on-line and learn more about NFL youth football initiatives, please visit NFLYouthfootball.com.