Running backs are chasing Wilson

By Michael Preston, IFAF

When the New York Giants selected running back David Wilson in the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft, there were knowing nods of approval from those who had seen the tournament MVP’s rushing talents up close and personal three years ago when he dominated the 2009 IFAF Under-19 World Championship.

A week from now, players and coaches representing eight countries from four continents will converge on Austin, Texas, for the 2012 edition of the IFAF Under-19 World Championship. They will prepare to kick off the opening round of games at Burger Stadium in the state capital on Saturday, June 30, with the eventual winners being crowned world champions on July 7.

Back in 2009, Wilson, who had already committed to Virginia Tech where he would make his mark and prompt the Giants to spend their first overall draft pick on his talents, ran riot from the Team USA backfield. Wilson owns every significant rushing tournament record having amassed 414 yards in four games, rushed for a game-high 181 yards against France while breaching the end zone four times, and scored eight total rushing touchdowns.

Conventional wisdom says that the running backs of the class of 2012 will not be able to match or better the 138 yards per game average Wilson maintained in helping the United States to the Gold Medal, but there are several who will attempt to carve their own niche in IFAF history.

When the games kick off on Saturday, June 30, the first contender to the Wilson crown will likely be Andreas Hofbauer, MVP of the 2011 European Junior Championship when Austria emerged as the continent’s best Under-19 nation. Hofbauer plays senior football for the Swarco Innsbruck Raiders and already has an Austrian championship and the prestigious Eurobowl title to his name. And he is no stranger to winning in Texas having helped the IFAF World Team to an historic 35-29 win over Team USA in the 2012 International Bowl.

If a star running back is to emerge from the host Team USA to rival the marks set by Wilson, Tarean Folston from Cocoa High School in Rockledge, Florida, is a prime contender. The Florida State-bound prospect rushed for 1,295 yards on 153 carries (8.4 average) and 17 touchdowns as a junior in 2011. As a sophomore, the 5-9, 185-pounder scored 13 touchdowns, gained 1,247 yards on the ground and helped lead the Tigers to a 14-0 record and a Florida state championship.

IFAF President Tommy Wiking is excited at the prospect of eight teams from around the world converging on Austin next week and the individual stars that will emerge.

“Three years ago at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, we witness some very exciting and competitive games and the emergence of new leaders of our sport on the football field,” said Wiking. “The players who illuminate Burger Stadium this summer will then return home as ambassadors for the sport. Their positive experiences will inspire other young athletes to begin playing American football. As a result, I believe the game will develop far beyond the 62 countries who are currently members of IFAF.”

The 2012 IFAF Under-19 World Championship will feature the national teams of American Samoa, Austria, Canada, France, Japan, Panama, Sweden and the United States.

Beaten finalist in 2009, Canada will arrive under new head coach Noel Thorpe, who is the defensive coordinator at the University of Montreal. In 2009 Canada opened the inaugural IFAF U-19 World Championship by putting 55 points past New Zealand without reply in the opening game. They won a thrilling clash with Japan 38-35 in the dying minutes to set up a Gold Medal meeting with the United States, which they lost 41-3.

Japan will again bring their brand of fast and efficiently executed football to Austin under Takao Yamazaki of Osaka Sangyo University Junior & Senior High School. He was named Coach of the Tournament in 2009 as Japan lost a heartbreaker 38-35 to Canada having seen off the challenge of Germany 10-7. They enjoyed the consolation of securing the Bronze Medal with a 42-27 win over Mexico in the Third Place game.

Three countries new to the IFAF Under-19 World Championship platform are Austria, American Samoa and Panama, while Sweden and France return having placed sixth and seventh respectively in 2009.

Austria and head coach Horst Obermayer won the 2011 European Junior Championship with a 21-14 victory over France to claim the Gold Medal and also secure a trip to Austin as Europe’s top-ranked nation.

American Samoa traveled to Australia in February and came home having qualified as Oceania’s sole representative as head coach Pooch Taase’s team won, 93-7, in monsoon conditions in the Oceania Bowl.

Panama makes its debut at this level as the tournament’s third Pan-American representative, having missed out on qualifying in 2009 when they beat the Bahamas but lost to Mexico.

In 2009, France under head coach Oliver Moret faced a daunting first game against the United States and was beaten 78-0 then lost 24-14 to European rival Sweden. Playing for seventh place overall, the French enjoyed a 34-6 victory over New Zealand. In 2011, after beating Serbia 35-0 for the right to play for at the European Championship in Spain, France then beat Sweden 21-14 and brushed aside the host Spain 55-6 to reach the final, losing 24-14 to Austria.

Sweden qualified by claiming third place at the 2011 European Junior Championship under head coach Mats Hagsten with surprise victory over Germany. Three years ago the Swedes qualified as Europe’s silver medalist and arrived at the inaugural Under 19 event with high hopes, only to suffer a 41-0 defeat to Mexico. Sweden regrouped and beat France 24-14, but then missed out on fifth place as they lost 14-0 to rival Germany.

Two newcomers will kick off the tournament at 9am on Saturday, June 30 when Panama takes on Austria, followed by the 2009 bronze medalist Japan against France at 11.30am. Canada, beaten finalist three years ago, faces Sweden at 5pm before the United States and American Samoa do battle at 8pm.

The results will decide the schedule of games for July 3 and 4. Winners of the games played on the Fourth of July will play for the Gold Medal three days later at 8pm on Saturday, July 7.

About IFAF: The International Federation of American Football (IFAF) unites 62 countries on six continents through a burgeoning international sport. With national football federations in existence for more than 75 years, IFAF was created in 1998 to organize and further develop the game through international cooperation and global competition. The IFAF office is located near Paris, France.