The state is Lone Star, but the team is together.
U.S. Under-19 National Team players from 20 states checked into Austin, Texas, on Friday to begin their pursuit of a gold medal and a world championship.
The 2012 International Federation of American Football Under-19 World Championship unites the world’s eight best national teams from four continents. Each team takes the field for its first game on June 30 in Austin’s Burger Stadium. The U.S. opens against American Samoa at 8 p.m. CT.
The Americans were the first to arrive in Austin, where the World Championship’s athletes will reside on the University of Texas campus.
“This is my first time in Texas,” linebacker Justin Bridges-Thompson of Spartanburg (S.C.) High School said. “I’m looking forward to competing, meeting my teammates and playing football.
“It’s an honor to play for my country.”
A first look of Austin and the University of Texas impressed Miami Christopher Columbus High School running back Lorenzo Woodley.
“It’s a wonderful experience to live on a campus like this,” Woodley said. “I just got here, but it seems like a nice campus. It’s a big school in a beautiful city.”
The team will practice twice Saturday at Austin’s Burger Stadium: 8:30 to 10:30 a.m. and 6:45 to 8:45 p.m. Burger Stadium is the site for all IFAF Under-19 World Championship games.
FRIENDLY SKIES At 6-7, 321 pounds, not every seat can accommodate offensive lineman Logan Tuley-Tillman of Manuel High School in Peoria, Ill. After getting out of bed at 4:30 a.m. to board his flight to Austin, he anticipated a tight fit to Texas.
“I don’t fit in a seat on a plane very well,” he said. “The flight attendant was pretty nice. She put me in the front seat and lifted the armrest up. I’ve got to give kudos to her and American Airlines.
“She essentially let me have two seats. I had leg room and everything.”
GREAT EXPECTATIONS Offensive tackle Hunter Bivin, a verbal commit to Notre Dame, anticipates a strong challenge from Team USA’s competitors.
“I expect them to be good,” said the incoming senior at Apollo High School in Owensboro, Ky. “They’re national teams. These are the best players in those countries. I’m sure they can play.”
Added Woodley of the U.S.’s foreign competition, “I look at them like I would any other team. I’m not going to look past them or underestimate them. I’m going to play my hardest against every team.”
SNEAK PREVIEW Tight end Durham Smythe of Belton (Texas) High School arrived on the University of Texas campus knowing he’ll be seeing more of it next year. Smythe is verbally committed to be a future Longhorn.
“This is another opportunity to become more familiar with the area,” Smythe said. “Playing for Team USA and staying here on campus is great.”
Photo: Linebacker Chase Abbington of St. Peters, Mo., is next in line to be fitted for a U.S. Under-19 National Team helmet by Riddell South Texas Youth Territory Representative Donald Majors on the University of Texas campus. Team USA reported to Austin, Texas, on June 21 to begin preparations for the IFAF Under-19 World Championship.
For more about the IFAF Under-19 World Championship, visit www.u19championship.com.