See how the IFAF U19 World Championship experience is similar to college football, and other fun team activities

By Adam Wire | Posted 7/19/2018

U.S. National Team assistant coach Virgil Hart (left) talks to Alec Meza (foreground), Julian Bradley (65), Ben Roots (64) and other team members before Wednesday's IFAF U19 World Championship game against Mexico at Olympic Stadium in Mexico City.

It’s almost a cliché now for someone to say, “You really don’t know what something is like until you’ve experienced it.” Playing in a foreign country for your nation’s team might be an extreme example of that.

U.S. National Team players have been together for more than two weeks now, beginning with training camp at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, to get acclimated to conditioning and playing in Mexico City’s 7,200-foot elevation. In the International Federation of American Football U19 World Championship, it seems the only thing that’s normal is to expect the abnormal.

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That said, a common theme among players and coaches is how much the National Team experience is similar to college football game days, particularly road games, and how beneficial that experience can be for players preparing to play collegiately.

That would describe a large chunk of the National Team’s 44-player roster. Alek Jacobs, the National Team’s starting quarterback, just completed his freshman season at Augustana (Illinois) College, and can vouch for the similarities.

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“I’ve had a year of college football. I think we’ve probably had more free time at this,” Jacobs said, referring to the IFAF event. “But there are still a lot of meetings and practice, and it’s a grind. I think it’s pretty similar to a college experience.”

A typical non-game day in Mexico City has gone something like this for the players: Breakfast at 7 or 8 a.m., hourlong meetings (offense and defense separately), lunch, a two-hour practice, dinner, another meeting at night and a 10 p.m. curfew.

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Game day routines include breakfast, a walk-through at the hotel, injury treatment (two-hour blocks each day, one in the morning and another in the evening), lunch, get taped and dressed at the hotel, warm up on the practice field (there's no practice time on the game field because there’s usually another game taking place at that time), play the game, return to the hotel, eat dinner and go to bed.

“It’s pretty much like a college game day, depending on what time your game is,” U.S. coach Matt Hennesy said.

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In the midst of all that, players and coaches have managed to squeeze in plenty of fun, as you can see here:

Hennesy said meshing a group of unfamiliar players and coaches in a short time period, along with the grueling three-games-in-nine-days schedule, has been the biggest challenge.

“Trying to organize nine coaches who are top-of-the-line coaches and are used to being the boss, understanding their roles, but not downplaying anybody, either, is difficult,” he said. “Using their tools to be the best you can, then doing the same thing with 45 kids that are used to being the best player on their team, and may not come from the same structure … trying to control that is probably the biggest challenge. We’re not used to playing a game every three days.”

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In the midst of all that, the consensus remains that despite all the extra activities, playing internationally and other sightseeing adventures, the players have enjoyed the basics the most.

“Being with these guys … you really don’t meet people from all over the country every day of your life, so this was a really good experience for me,” said wide receiver Ezekiel Ennis, another player with a year of collegiate experience at Sacred Heart University in Connecticut. “It’s a lot different than what you expect back home. Everything is on a tight schedule; you don’t live your life based on what you do normally. There’s a lot of stuff that goes into being an international football player that a lot of people don’t understand.”

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