So, there's a reason for the flags. This summer, starting tomorrow, three of our boys in purple will be representing the red, white, and blue: football pre-froshes John Plasencia and Brian Smith will be on the USA team at the very first Junior World Championship, and John Shurna will be a member of the USA contingent heading to the U-19 Championships in New Zealand. I'm excited about this, because I'm a sucker for nationalistic sporting events. (YEAH CLINT DEMPSEY!)
Today, I'll post about football. In the name of saving up things I can write about as long as possible, Ill discuss Shurna when his tournament starts. But Plasencia, Smith, and 43 other kids who have never smelled a dorm hallway before will kick off their tournament Saturday in Canton, Ohio, against France.
First off, let's welcome Plasencia and Smith. Plasencia is a superback (quoth Fitz: a super person who does super things), and Smith is an offensive lineman. Both, as previously noted, are incoming freshman, both will most likely redshirt, and both probably won't start a game at Northwestern for at least three years. But for some reason or another, they've been selected as part of the US Junior National team.
But what does that mean? Are these the best players in the United States? What's the history of this tournament?
The answers: I have no idea, nope, and there is none.
Since this is the first rendition of the tournament, there's no historical context for me to tell you what sort of a harbinger playing in a competition like this is for how good the players are, how they got selected, why they got selected, or any other amount of questions. What I can tell you, because I read the press release, is that 45 players attending 33 colleges next year were selected to play in Canton, and that, according to NUsports.com, Plasencia and Smith aren't the cream of the crop - rather, Plasencia is the 86th best tight end in his class according to Superprep and Smith is the 70th best tackle.
But enough with the parade raining. It's damn impressive that these kids were selected, and it can't hurt that they get a few weeks of extra training, practice, and game experience, which they'll probably get, considering there's only 45 guys on the team. Not to mention that I doubt whatever mysterious entity involved with putting this team together probably wasn't searching for scrubs: they must have seen something about these two dudes out of the thousands of D-1 tight ends and o-linemen that they liked. (Although, considering the preponderance of Big Ten guys, geography and the logistics of holding a tournament in Ohio might have had something to do with it, especially considering that Smith is actually from Ohio.) I wouldn't be surprised if they were intentionally not picking top-flight players so that opposing teams had a chance, figuring closer games, and maybe a USA team losing a game or two would allow for the sport to grow on an international level.
A way to make sense of all of this might be a brief primer on the history of international American football competitions, which, surprisingly, exist.(figure out which adjective modifies what there.) The wikipedia tells me
that the IFAF (International Federation of American Football) has been held three times, with Japan winning twice and the US winning in 2007, the first time they sent a team.
You'd be surprised to find that they didn't completely dominate. After winning their group stage games against South Korea and Germany 77-0 and 33-7, respectively, the team had a serious battle against Japan, winning a 23-20 double overtime game.
I doubt there will be close games like that in this competition. As far as I can tell, the USA team there was a Frankenstein-ish hodgepodge of inactive ex-collegiate football players with an intense series of regulations on who could be picked: no players who had ever been professional, multiple players had to be selected from D-I, D-II, and D-III, and none were allowed to have been active players at the collegiate level for 12 months prior to the tournament. They played against international teams that, despite lacking the football pedigree and infrastructure that the United States has, had probably been playing together and practicing for longer: after all, it was their one time to shine, while for the USA players, it was just one last fling and attempt at capturing glory after finishing their mildly successful careers and getting an education out of it.
Here, in the first Junior World Championships, the USA squad makes more sense and is probably going to be more cohesive as a result. There's no draconian restrictions on who could be picked: it's just 45 guys who the USA Football people liked, and they're not rusty, since they just finished with high school and are moving on towards college, not completely finished with their careers. And their competition is probably the same level of skill as in the last tournament: that is to say, bad.
Let's be real: they're playing France in the first round. France. I'd like to mock the french as weak and cowardly, primarily because of four years of B-minus speckled high school french, but despite never having been mugged in nearly 20 years of living in New York, I managed to get mugged, and, rather violently so, in five days of being in France, so, they officially earned the right to not be called snivelling cowards. Instead, I will talk about how unlikely it is that they are good at football.
I will paraphrase from the biography of their starting quarterback, Maxime Sprauel, I repeat, whose name is Maxime Sprauel, which is a french name, even though the sport is called American football. (And no: LaDanian is not a french name, if you were wondering.) Maxime plays for the Thornon les Bains Black Panthers (good choice of team name, folks, probably considerably less controversial in France), and recently led the French junior team to a third place finish at the European Junior American Football championships. Other teams in the tournament include Japan,(I guess they were good in those other weird international tournaments I just wrote about), Canada (makes sense, CFL and all), Mexico (okay, getting weird now, although I guess they border us), Germany (NFL Europe, maybe?), New Zealand (really? I mean, this is getting silly), and Sweden (hahahahahahaha). So, yeah, the competition isn't great. Maybe a well-established team like Canada or Japan will give Plasencia, Smith n crew a run for their money, but odds are the two will come to Evanston with some hardware in pocket.
The games, obviously, are not on television, although they will stream from the USA football website. (In other news: I will not be watching.) If anybody does watch, first off, please, leave your house, go get some fresh air, do something else with your life. Second, tell us how the Wildcats involved do. Even though probably, they'll be doing nothing more important than blocking, and it will be really difficult to judge how good they actually are, considering they'll be going up against frenchies.
If I can find anything out about how the tourney goes, I'll give you a report when the tourney is over. Until then, wish them luck, but for now, just know that the bottom line is that it's great for the program that two of our guys have this cool experience. Next week, I'll discuss Shurna's US experience before his tournament kicks off on July 2nd.
Oh, and if you're still reading (highly unlikely,) peep the poll on the right side! Make it look like I got readers!