Under-17 Week is about getting better for the fall

By Joe Frollo

Not every player will make the big catch, the crucial block or the touchdown-saving tackle.

But everyone can improve.

That’s the focus behind USA Football Under-17 International Development Week. More than 120 U.S. players are in Austin, Texas, to improve their football skills and get better for their high school teams this fall.

For Allen Hall of Laurel, Md., it means becoming more aggressive as a defensive back, using individual drills, 7-on-7 and team situations to play the game faster against top competition.

For Jack Carroll, a nose guard and offensive lineman from Oakton, Va., and Gonzaga College High School, that means learning new defenses and growing his football knowledge.

“This week has opened me up to new experiences,” Carroll said. “When I go to college, I’ll have to learn new schemes, new techniques. I’ve been doing some of that here already.”

The players aren’t the only ones improving themselves. The U.S. coaching staffs are sharing insights with each other and offering tools that their colleagues can take back to their own programs.

“I’ve learned some defensive back drills that I’ll incorporate into what we do,” said Jeff Ables, the head coach at Austin Bowie High School and USA Team Red. “We all run basically the same stuff, but there are wrinkles you can learn from other coaches that you can use with your team.”

Coaches and players spent Wednesday at Whitaker Fields putting final touches on their training. All that remains Thursday morning are scrimmages at Burger Stadium. Team Red and Team Blue kick off at 9 a.m., followed by Team White and Team Sweden.

“These guys are ready to go, ready to compete,” Ables said. “We are looking forward to it.”

MAKING THE MOST  Nick Johns fractured his ankle playing basketball prior to arriving at the Under-17 International Development Week. Still, the Leesburg, Va., quarterback made the trip to Austin to get what he can out of the situation.

“I’ve been watching all the drills, all the workouts,” Johns said. “I have a better grasp on how to control an offense, and I’ve seen some good drills to help me with my footwork.”

BACK AT IT  Christian Drews of Ramona, Calif., suffered a high ankle sprain during Monday’s practice. He missed all of Tuesday and Wednesday recovering before taking the field with Team Red on Thursday, much to his delight.

“I’m really, really excited,” Drews said. “It’s been rough sitting down.”

Drews’ father, Jeremy, credited the staff from St. Vincent Sports Medicine for assisting his son’s recovery.

“They spent so much time with him, working with him to get him back out there,” Jeremy Drews said. “The target goal was Thursday’s scrimmages, but to get him out there a day earlier is wonderful.”

BEHIND THE SCENES  Matt Loo of St. George, Utah, has traveled with his son, Bowman, to many football camps. He gave a thumbs up to USA Football and its events team for coordinating the Under-17 Week.

“Logistically, the way it is organized is pretty amazing,” Matt Loo said. “You’ve got 150 kids, including some from Sweden, getting from point to point without a hitch. That’s a great job.”

Players and coaches are housed at the University of Texas dorms and board busses each day for practice. Loo, a defensive line coach at Snow Canyon High School in Utah, said he knows how difficult it is getting just one team ready and loaded onto busses on time.

“The kids have been having fun because all the little things are taken care of,” Loo said. “Being able to focus on the competition, they are able to work hard and go home better players.”

THE NEXT LEVEL  Most players at the Under-17 International Development Week hope to play football at the college level. Steve Dressler of Covington, Va., said his son, Derek, has gotten a crash course on what it will be like as a college athlete.

“Their schedule has been structured much like it will be in college,” Dressler said. “Get up, breakfast, practice, lunch, study sessions, practice and more studying. If this is what they want to do, this week has shown them the way.”

FRIENDLY COMPETITION  Marcus Royster, a parent from Lake Oswego, Ore., said competition is high this week, but all of the U.S. and Swedish players feel like teammates in that they help each other out.

“You are competing against people who want to be where you are at, but this setting builds a bond that lends itself to helping everyone to improve,” said Royster, whose son Marqueese is participating. “Players have the chance to become leaders as well as improve themselves. That’s just as important.”