Under-17 Week ends, relationships just beginning

By Joe Frollo

For seven days, players from across the United States and Sweden came together in Austin, Texas, with a simple purpose: to become better football players.

Along the way, they also made friends, built relationships and discovered opportunities they never knew they had.

In today’s digital world, it’s easy for one teenager in California to chat with another in Virginia or even Stockholm.

Crossing continents and oceans are a simple task once people get the chance to know one another.

The USA Football Under-17 International Development Week ended Thursday with full-contact scrimmages at Burger Stadium. Nearly 140 athletes from 25 states represented Team USA on Red, White and Blue squads.

No scores were kept. That wasn’t the point. Like the rest of this week, Thursday’s finale was about playing hard and helping opponents up after the whistle blows.

“The practices, the games, everything was great,” said Logan McHone, a Team Red two-way lineman from Valley Christian High School in Dublin, Calif. “I learned techniques from these coaches that will help me put it all together this fall. And the friendships I made with players from the United States and Sweden are something I look to continue.”

Team Blue head coach Louie Becerra of St. Dominic Savio High School in Austin said staffs started by teaching fundamentals but quickly built individuals into groups and systems.

For the players to assimilate everything they absorbed and execute on the field is high praise for these athletes.

“I think every one of these players will take what they learned here this week back to their high schools and apply it to their game,” Becerra said. “Not just what they learned on the field but how to perform in meetings, watch film and how to be students of the game.”

American and Swedish players practiced alongside each other all week, then competed against each other in jamborees and the scrimmage.

The teams played with emotion and the passion the sport demands. But sportsmanship came naturally for athletes who knew each other as people behind the facemasks.

“This was a great experience. Everyone came together real quickly,” said Team White linebacker Paul Baclayon of Monroe Twp., N.J. “It is something we can always say we went through together. The coaches taught us so much. I can’t wait to take it back and use it in the high school season.”

THEY’LL BE BACK  Swedish running back Jonathan Gihl said competing against the Americans will help himself and his teammates improve. Better players make for a stronger game, and that is a goal for the Swedes.

“This week has been something I can’t describe,” Gihl said. “It was a long trip, and it will be a long way back, but it is well worth it. All the knowledge we got will go a long way toward what we want to do.

“This will make us stronger players. We are not that far behind the Americans. You will see us at the world championship and the European championship. We’re Sweden. We will represent our country well.”

THAT’S A WRAP  The USA Football Under-17 International Development Week was the final event in the 2012 World Football Festival. In all, about 2,000 players, coaches and officials from more than 30 states and 15 countries took part in six events in and around Austin.