Two Pine View Middle School seventh-graders are gearing up for one of the nation’s most prestigious youth football events.
As members of FBU (Football University) Team Tampa, center Niko Spilotro and quarterback Jayce Nixon will participate in the annual FBU National Championship tournament in Naples, beginning Dec. 7.
The 32-team tournament is described as “youth football’s biggest event,” uniting all-star athletes and elite-level prospects of all backgrounds from across the United States. Pine View Middle is in Land O’ Lakes.
National champions are crowned for sixth, seventh and eighth grade divisions.
The team’s first game is against FBU Jacksonville. If Team Tampa wins, it will vie for the Florida region championship, against the winner of the Dec. 8 game between Team Central Florida-Team Southwest Florida.
The Florida region winner then would advance to Championship Week, which is Dec. 15 to Dec. 19, where the team could potentially face other FBU all-star teams from across the country, beginning with the Southeast region winner (either a team from Georgia, Mississippi or northwest Florida), and on from there.
Hundreds of FBU national alumni have gone on to play in the NFL and Division I college football. Some notable names include Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey, Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota, Los Angeles Chargers defensive lineman Joey Bosa, New York Jets safety Jamal Adams, and Clemson University quarterback Trevor Lawrence.
Getting to compete against the nation’s best and likely some future big names thrills the two 12-year-old teammates and friends.
Spilotro called it “a great honor” to be on Team Tampa and participate in the national showcase.
“I love to be able to compare myself to other great players to help enhance my game more,” he added.
It’s likewise a “pretty big” deal for Nixon, a left-handed pocket passer.
He put it like this: “I get to tell my friends I’m one of the kids (on Team Tampa) and I get to play with Niko, and I get to meet all these new kids.”
Plus, he said: “I also get to go against better competition that’ll make me better in the long run.”
Besides being Pine View teammates, the fact that they are the team’s center and quarterback makes their Team Tampa journey all the more unique, they agreed.
“It’s very special,” Spilotro said. Having been on the same team, they are familiar with how each of them plays, which will work to Team Tampa’s advantage.
Nixon said the Team Tampa coaches have praised the duo for their cohesion during snap exchanges and other drills during regular practices at Jefferson High School.
The team’s head coach is Carlo Thompson. The assistant coaches are also high school coaches and former college players.
“The coaches said we work really good together and (they) could tell that we’ve played together before,” Nixon said. “We developed that trust with the team, so having (Niko) there is always good.”
With FBU games being streamed online at FloFootball.com, it also could give the duo some more national exposure and get them on the radar of scouts and college coaches. A few games may even air in select television markets.
It’ll be a new experience, Nixon said.
“I really never played in a league like this where people are going to play on TV and stuff,” he said.
When it comes to the pigskin, both of these boys are serious.
The 6-foot-tall Spilotro plays hockey and basketball to improve his footwork, balance and hand-eye coordination in the offseason.
But, that’s all in a quest to enhance his football skills as an offensive and defensive lineman .
“Football is definitely my favorite sport,” he said.
He loves that it’s a team sport and requires the entire team to perform well.
He also likes to measure his personal progress.
“I love to see how far I have come and how far I’m going to be able to go. I really love just how you’re able to kind of let loose and play aggressive,” Spilotro said.
Nixon, meanwhile, started running track last year to improve his speed and agility.
He picked up the new sport “not to become a running quarterback, but just have the ability, if the pocket does break down, to get out and make a play.”
He also regularly plays flag football and in 7-on-7 football leagues to hone his overall quarterback skills.
The two boys took different routes to Team Tampa, which is coming off back-to-back seventh grade FBU national championships, which they claimed in 2017 and 2018.
Spilotro last year attended an FBU mini-combine in Naples, then attended an FBU regional camp in Orlando, where he was selected to the 2019 FBU Top Gun Showcase, in Rock Hill, South Carolina.
The South Carolina event is an annual national showcase designed to highlight the country’s middle school and prep student-athletes in an intense position-specific test of technical skill and ability.
He performed well enough at the showcase to be named a Class of 2025 All-Top Gun Team selection.
And, he carried that momentum into Team Tampa tryouts, where he made the roughly 25-member squad that features the Tampa Bay area’s top seventh-graders, with players from as far away as Avon Park and Bartow.
It hasn’t all come easily for the athlete, however.
Spilotro has overcome a rare eye disorder called congenital nystagmus, a condition where the eyes make repetitive, uncontrolled movements, which can result in reduced vision and depth perception. A Shriners hospital patient, Spilotro had surgery to correct the condition about two years ago.
“Physically, he’s had to really overcome some things to get to the level where he’s at,” his mother, Toni Spilotro, said. “He just didn’t walk into this world being a big, tough boy. It’s something he’s had to learn over the years and overcome his own challenges.”
Nixon, meanwhile, didn’t go through the FBU camp circuit. He instead was discovered by a rival coach while playing for the Bay Area Packers in the Tampa Bay Youth Football League (TBYFL). The signal-caller impressed enough to make Team Tampa after being invited to a tryout.
His new team has opened his eyes to the amount of talent in the Tampa Bay area.
“With my other (youth football) teams, it’s usually about one or two really good kids, but with this team, it does feel as a step up,” he said.
Published December 04, 2019
Leave a Reply
You must be logged in to post a comment.