After the first of what will be many seasons together as high school football teammates, it’s only fitting that Conner O’Donnell and Robert Washington are in the same uniform this week as they represent their country on the U.S. Under-16 National Team.
O’Donnell caught 38 passes for 919 yards and five touchdowns as a freshman at Southlake Christian High School in Davidson, N.C.
Washington ran for 1,017 yards and 11 touchdowns, averaging 11.4 yards per carry in 2012. Washington also made 21 tackles while helping Southlake Christian to an 11-2 record.
Both are in Austin, Texas, as part of the fourth annual International Bowl festivities. Team USA concludes its five-day event Wednesday with a game against Team Canada in the first international football contest between the two national teams.
“It’s a great honor to be out here with him representing our country in front of all these people,” O’Donnell said. “I’m really enjoying it down here in Texas. I like the facilities. We’ve got great coaches and great teammates. I’m just having fun playing with my teammates.”
Despite being just freshman, both have verbally committed to Mississippi State, becoming the first two members of the Bulldogs’ 2016 recruiting class.
“It’s a great experience,” Washington said. “Playing for USA Football and representing our country inspires other people at our school. Even though we’re young, it inspires seniors, sophomore and juniors to do what we do. We have that chemistry. We already know how the other plays so we just encourage each other and make each other better.”
The Under-16 National Team is led by head coach Donald Davis. Davis is 77-37 (.675) during his high school head coaching career, including 47-23 (.671) in six seasons at Baltimore (Md.) Calvert Hall High School.
He coached during USA Football’s U-17 Development Week last summer.
“It’s an absolute honor,” Davis said of coaching the U-16 squad. “Working with the staff that I’ve worked with coaching our U-16 guys, working the gentlemen from the U-18 team, having an opportunity to enjoy this beautiful Texas weather … having an opportunity to be with these coaches and young men and this staff from USA Football and enjoy Austin, Texas, is tremendous.”
THE MAYOR’S BLESSING For U.S. linebacker Dylan McDonald, representing his country is a tremendous honor by itself. Being honored by his hometown mayor before making the trek from Parsippany, N.J., was icing on the cake.
Parsippany mayor Joe Barberio gave McDonald a proclamation before he left for Austin to join the Under-16 team this week.
“It’s really cool because I’ve been working so hard. Him giving it to me means a lot,” McDonald said. “USA (Football) is the best program out there. All these guys are great football players. It makes me better. Playing international teams, like right now we’re playing Canada, these things, you remember them for life.”
The proclamation also was means a lot for McDonald’s mother, Gayle, who is excited to see her son’s hard work pay off this week. Dylan also was a member of the U.S. U-15 team last summer.
“I can’t even put it into words. It was the most amazing moment of my life,” she said. “It makes it worth everything – all the blood, sweat and tears, every penny. It’s been totally worthwhile. This has been the most fulfilling experience of Dylan’s life and of our lives.”
GO GO ARIZONA Washington and O’Donnell aren’t the only U-16 players who have already announced their college choices. Hidalgo (Texas) High School quarterback Shea Patterson, after passing for 1,376 yards and 18 touchdowns as a freshman, is verbally committed to play at Arizona.
Patterson, who also ran for 414 yards and six touchdowns last season, believes playing for Team USA will help prepare him for the next level.
“Representing our country, there’s nothing like it,” Patterson said. “It’s always great to play at the highest level so you can get used to it, because that’s what it’s going to be like in college. ... USA and Canada are two very well-respected countries. It’s going to be a really good game. It’s amazing to see all these kids from all over and having really good competition.”
MAKNIG COACHES BETTER As players gather from across the country to compete against international athletes and hone their skills against some of the nation’s top players at their level, coaches are looking to improve their games as well.
Davis has won 30 games during the last three years at Calvert Hall, which has spent 60 straight weeks ranked among the top-10 high school football teams in Maryland.
“Everything about working with young men and working in football helps you improve as a coach,” Davis said. “I’ve learned from the gentlemen on our staff. I’ve watched our U-18 coaches work so I’ve learned along the way, continuing to sharpen myself and work at the craft coaching young men.”
STAYING HEALTHY The U-16 team arrived Saturday to begin four days of practices in advance of its contest against Team Canada. Kickoff is 4 p.m. Wednesday at Kelly Reeves Athletic Complex.
As of Monday’s practices, there’s been no major injuries that will keep anyone from playing in the game.
“We’re good to go,” Davis said. “We had a couple tight hamstrings and some little things but no major injuries. God willing, it’ll stay that way.”