We live in a shrinking world, where distances disappear with every keystroke on the Internet.
On Wednesday night in Austin, Texas, two future Oregon State Beavers met each other the old fashioned way – with a handshake and a hello after one traveled what seemed half a world to get there.
Damien Haskins (pictured left) of New Boston, Texas, and Fred Lauina (right) of American Samoa live more than 5,000 miles apart. But for a few minutes before preparations for the 2013 International Bowl begin in earnest, they were simply a couple of football players talking about their lives and love for the sport they share.
“This is very cool,” said Haskins, a running back for the U.S. Under-19 National Team. “We got to talking about Oregon State, and we are going there for pretty much the same reasons. We like the campus, the coaches, the atmosphere. We don’t disagree on much of anything.”
Except, of course, who they want to see win on Tuesday night.
Haskins and Lauina are a week away from signing their letters of intent and becoming college teammates. They will spend years together in the weight room, at the training table, on the practice field and likely in the classroom as well.
For now, though, they remain rivals.
“The United States players are big, very tall,” said Lauina, an offensive lineman for the IFAF World Team. “But size isn’t everything. We play with a lot of heart. We’ve proved that, and we’ll show it again.”
Wednesday gave players and coaches an evening to come together and share a meal before practices and meetings start Thursday morning. Competition is the focus of the week, but there are longer-lasting goals to be had as well.
The seed of friendship – such as the one Haskins and Lauina have a chance to build – can be planted here in Austin.
“There is something special about football,” IFAF World Team head coach Tuomas Heikkenen of Finland said. “It teaches the values of life in lessons that cross boundaries and languages. We have a unique opportunity to come here to the United States, meet you and play this sport with you. I hope you get as much out of this wonderful chance and experience as we will.”
Football creates a series of moments to rise up and capture, USA Football National Teams Director Garrett Shea said. He challenged players and coaches on both sides to not let these opportunities pass by them.
“Tonight represents the beginning of a celebration of this sport through fellowship and competition,” Shea said. “My hope is that you all return home better players but that we all return home better people for having met and gotten to know each other.”
Haskins looks forward to following Lauina’s blocks soon in Corvallis. For now, though, he is working alongside his American teammates.
“I enjoyed talking to players from Canada, from Mexico, to Fred,” Haskins said. “We shared stories about what it’s like to be in high school, to play football and to go to college.
“But by the time we get back to the hotel, it’ll be about this game.”
UNFINISHED BUSINESS Six members of the 2013 U.S. Under-19 National Team played in the 2012 IFAF Under-19 World Championship last summer in Austin, where Team USA lost to Canada in the gold medal game, 23-17. None of them want to take that feeling home with them again.
“I’m here for one reason,” said defensive lineman Jacob Hyde of Manchester, Ky., who will play for the Kentucky Wildcats, “and that’s to get our gold medal.”
Hyde and the others will stress to their teammates the importance of not overlooking the talent on the IFAF World Team. Many of Canada’s gold-medal winning players will suit up Tuesday, including World Championship MVP Kevin McGee, a defensive back.
JOB AT HAND Notre Dame-bound Team USA wide receiver Devin Butler of Washington, D.C., was all smiles during the Welcome Dinner with World Team players. However, the Gonzaga College High School senior, who awoke at 5 a.m. ET to arrive in Austin this afternoon, knows that his flight to Texas means more than second trips to the dessert table.
“This (the Welcome Dinner) was laid back where it’s not so tense,” he said. “Yet everybody knows that we have something to accomplish by winning this game.”
WHISTLE WORK Team USA’s Taurean Ferguson of Jonesboro (Ga.) High School referees and umpires youth football and baseball games. Does that make the 5-foot-9 cornerback empathetic toward game officials when they throw a flag on him?
“Yeah, here and there,” the Vanderbilt commit said unconvincingly with a wince. “I’ll get mad for being flagged, but I understand – that’s how it is. If you make a mistake, you make a mistake. It’s going to happen.”
SEEKING REPEAT World Team linebacker Howard Tatua of American Samoa traveled more than 24 hours door-to-door from Pago Pago to Austin, leaving home Monday evening and arriving just before midnight Tuesday. The high school senior also played for the 2012 World Team that defeated the U.S., 35-29. Despite his tired and blood-shot eyes Wednesday night, he is intent on consecutive victories.
“We beat the USA last year, and we need to do it again this year,” he said. “I know that it’s very hard, but there is one thing that we’re here for – it’s football.”