BALTIMORE, MD — For Garry Smith, getting exposure for the top football players in the Baltimore area has always been high on his priority list. Thanks to the Charm City Elite travel 7-on-7 program, Smith has seen plenty of success on that front.
Charm City Elite — with its roots dating to 2006 — travels to play against some of the top skill position athletes in the country. Smith has attempted to pull the best players from both private and public schools in Baltimore City, Baltimore County, Howard County, Harford County and other surrounding areas to play for his squad in the spring.
The team starts play in February until the season culminates in June, when the country’s top 7-on-7 talent meeting in the national championship at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida.
“We’ll go and play against teams in North Carolina, Philadelphia, New York, Florida, Detroit — they’re from all over,” Smith said. “They bring their best and we try and bring our best.”
Years ago while at a 7-on-7 tournament, Smith and a couple of other coaches in the state pulled their players together to play for an entity then known as Team Maryland. Eventually, Team Maryland branched off into different organizations and Charm City Elite kept things rolling in the Baltimore area.
The program consists of two teams — one for ages 15 and under and the other for players 18 and under. Smith’s 15U team has 25 players and the 18U squad has 20 players. Tryouts take place before the spring schedule of showcase events across the nation.
This past season, Charm City Elite had more than 50 players show up to the tryout and ended up making cuts.
Smith, an All-Metro cornerback for Dunbar’s state championship team in 1994 before playing at Temple, said recruiting players to join the program hasn’t always come easily. Every player has been found organically by word of mouth.
“We haven’t had mass marketing over the years,” Smith said. “We’ve just had makeshift recruiting because we really don’t have a platform to reach everybody. We tried social media — that helped a little bit, but it still hasn’t reached where we’ve wanted to reach. So, we really need high school coaches on board to share information with the players and let them know that there’s other opportunities out there to get them exposure and get better.
“And in that way, we will have the high school coaches’ grace with their kids and their kids will be less reluctant to come out. Some high school coaches don’t really like 7-on-7. I don’t know why, but it is what it is.”
One of the goals for the Charm City Elite team is to provide repetitions for its players during their transition from grade to grade. For freshmen going into their sophomore year, the idea is to accumulate enough playing time to be equivalent to the next year in which they play. This allows for the player to be well-prepped for the fall.
The team’s main goal is to help up-and-coming middle school and high school football players to draw interest from college programs. Recruiting coordinators, other coaches and national writers attend many of the 7-on-7 events in the country. Charm City Elite attends those showcases to get college coaches familiar with the team’s players.
“Most of the championship-caliber events — the qualifying events — you’ll get Rivals and 247[Sports],” Smith said. “They’re going to be out there scouting and evaluating the talent. The key tool is to win as a group and draw the attention to your program by the writers and they are going to want to know who you guys are. If we advance and go to the championship rounds, everybody is going to want to know who Charm City Elite is.”
Mount Saint Joseph senior cornerback Aamir Hall, a Richmond commit, and Archbishop Spalding junior safety Zakee Wheatley, the 16th-ranked prospect in Maryland according to 247Sports, have both been standouts for Brown’s Elite team.
Hall was one of the older players on the squad this past spring and he’s spent many hours training with the club in between his seasons at Mount Saint Joseph. Many of the techniques and aspects of his game he has improved on, he credits Charm City Elite for being one of the major building blocks.
“That was just a really good experience,” Hall said. “I was one of the older guys. Bringing them back this year, I feel like I was able to help jump-start the program and get some of the younger guys some exposure and try to help them going forward.”
Wheatley sees a major difference in the way his recruitment has gone on the 7-on-7 circuit.
“We went up to Philly and it was a showcase event — scouts were there and I had a good day and they wrote something about me,” Wheatley said. “I’m pretty sure that helped a lot.”
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In the past, the team has also been home to talents such as former Franklin wide receiver Steven Smothers (West Virginia), McDonogh safety Kareem Montgomery (Lehigh/Maryland) and tight end Michael Cornwell (Maryland), Calvert Hall/Damascus quarterback Colar Kuhns (Michigan State/Charleston), Dunbar wide receiver J’uan Campbell (Cal Poly), Milford Mill cornerback Brandon Savage (Norfolk State), Mount Saint Joseph wide receiver Devin Heckstall (Utah State) and New Town cornerback Andre Neal (Colorado State), among others.