By Joe Frollo
Preparations are over. The final practices are in the books. There’s little more players and coaches can do to get ready.
It’s game day.
The fourth annual International Bowl between the U.S. Under-19 National Team and the IFAF World Team kicks off at 8 p.m. CT (9 p.m. ET) today at Kelly Reeves Athletic Complex in Austin, Texas. The game will be televised live in the United States and Canada on CBS Sports Network and streamed internationally at www.youtube.com/usafootball.
Team USA coaches and players arrived a week ago. After 10 practices and a walkthrough, the U.S. coaching staff has shown 45 of the best high school football players in America what they need to do.
It’s up to them now to go out and execute the plan.
“Everybody is as ready as they are going to be,” said Team USA quarterback and captain Shane Cockerille of Baltimore Gillman School. “There’s nothing more to refine. We’re ready to play. We’re excited.”
U.S. head coach Aaron Brady of Washington (D.C.) Gonzaga College Prep was the defensive line coach in 2011, when Team USA beat the World Team, 21-14.
The Americans fell last year, 35-29, a fact that is not lost on this Team USA.
“This is a huge game for myself, the staff, the players and everyone associated with USA Football,” Brady said. “There is national pride riding on this. There was a lot of work put in to get us all to where we are.”
Team USA installed an offense and defense in six days, bringing together 45 players and eight coaches from 20 states. The schemes are designed to adjust on the fly because little is known of the other team.
No film has been traded. There are no scouting reports.
“It’s our job to put players in the position to make plays. It’s up to them to make them,” Brady said. “These are elite athletes. We are not going to slow them down with too many assignments. We want them to play fast.”
Cockerille said the players appreciate that, and they know what’s on the line in this game as well. They want to prove that the best football is still being played here in the United States.
“We are getting a chance to play for our country,” Cockerille said. “We take that to heart.”
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IN THE TRENCHES The toughest challenge of any game like the International Bowl is gelling along the offensive line. One breakdown up front can leave an entire offense going backward.
It helps when players are as talented as the one Team USA has, U.S. offensive line coach Joe Dale Cary said. It helps even more when they like and respect each other.
“This group of guys are really a unit,” said Cary, an assistant coach at Port Neches-Groves High School. “They picked up everything really quick, and they’ve got each other’s backs.”
The admiration is mutual. Left guard Colin Goebel, an Iowa commit from Naperville (Ill.) North High School, said when Coach Cary speaks, all the linemen listen.
“I like his aggressive way of playing offensive line – going all out on every play,” Goebel said. “He’s a great coach, he knows a lot. He is really emphasizing footwork, which is key.”
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POWER LUNCH Former University of Texas All-American and two-time Super Bowl champion Dan Neil spoke to Team USA on Monday during the USA National Team Luncheon presented by Marriott.
Neil offered advice to the Team USA players who will sign Wednesday with top college programs, and he provided some insight into his experiences as a football player.
Hard work, self-discipline, preparation and staying humble are the keys to success at the sport’s highest levels, Neil said. Everybody on the team has to contribute toward success, even if everyone doesn’t share in the limelight.
“As soon as you care more about the guy next to you than you do about yourself, you have a chance to build something,” said Neil, who played right guard for the Denver Broncos in Super Bowls XXXII and XXXIII. “When everyone is doing that, you have a chance to be champions.”
Neil also stressed the importance of earning a degree while in college. An education benefits a player during his football career and after.
“You will not make it in the NFL if you cannot study and learn,” Neil said. “We will all get beat physically at some point or another, but coaches have no patience for someone who gets beat mentally.”