U.S. football experience leaves indeliable mark
By Darren Lum
Fresh from their American experience, a pair of local teenaged football players can still feel the warmth of the Texas sun.
Childhood friends Kyle Lavergne of Haliburton and Sage Christiano of Carnarvon spent a week in Arlington earlier this month as part of the Canadian contingent of players who went toe-to-toe with some of the best young football players in the U.S. during the 2016 International Bowl held at the AT&T Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys. This event is a collaboration between USA Football and Football Canada, both national football governing bodies.
The week of bowl games included four U.S. national teams that joined U.S. select teams in a series of games against Canadian national teams and Canadian provincial teams. More than 500 top U.S. high school and junior high athletes represented their country. The United States won four of the six games over three days to win the International Bowl trophy. Canada won the series trophy the past two years.
The local boys played with the under-18 Ontario team against the under-18 U.S. select squad on Friday, Feb. 5. Although they lost 34-3 and didn’t make a highlight reel, it didn’t dampen their enthusiasm for an amazing week that they will never forget.
The entire experience was special for Lavergne – from the team travelling together by plane to the game being held in an NFL stadium.
He was so taken by excitement in the lead up he couldn’t sleep the night before heading south.
“We’re not even 18 years old and we’re playing in Dallas and there’s a bunch of people who are hyped to watch the game and stuff. It was surreal. It was crazy,” he said.
Coming from a country where hockey is king, it was a learning experience for Christiano.
He discovered what football means to Americans.
“Football to them is like a religion. They take it extremely seriously and all of them are strong,” he said.
Lavergne, a wideout, had a different perspective than his buddy, who is a lineman and plays in the proverbial trenches.
“I found it no different because a football field is a football field regardless of where you are. Especially when we were playing at the AT&T stadium. Yeah, it’s one of the nicest stadiums in the world, but you don’t even notice you’re playing in it. You’re concentrated on the game,” he said.
Both of them loved the attention to detail during the preparation for their game on Friday, Feb. 5.
There was a practice on the day they arrived, followed by daily practices and regular video sessions, examining everything in practices from what happened and how to improve.
Lavergne said the week was great for the development of his game.
“I found that my game improved a lot. Like a lot. Just playing with higher calibre. Like even against your own teammates. A higher calibre than what you usually see in the OFC or OVFL,” he said.
While Lavergne loved being able to get breakfast, specifically pancakes and crepes, at any hour at the International House of Pancakes across the road from the practice facility, Christiano was thoroughly impressed by the team’s trainers and their ability to help him recover from a knee injury sustained early in the week to play in the big game against the Americans. Within two days, he went from being unable to walk to being able to play in the game as a long-snapper.
“I found that amazing,” he said.
Despite being on the losing end of a lopsided game, the pair of friends were not without an entertaining opponent (even if it wasn’t appreciated until after the frustrating game).
The American select team coach is notorious for an unorthodox style of coaching. He attempted an on-side kick on the opening drive and then later in the game he had his quarterback and offensive line execute a surprise snap, catching the Canadian defence asleep. The Americans came to the line. Their quarterback pretended to be just talking when he abruptly had his centre snap the ball before the Canadians could react to defend.
Neither had seen such a style of strategy employed, let alone being on the other end of it.
The special nature of their experience isn’t lost on the boys.
“Just being able to say you played at the Dallas Cowboys stadium when you were 17 years old is insane,” Christiano said.
Lavergne adds, “not a lot of people get that opportunity.”
In hindsight, the experience the two shared will be something neither will ever forget.
“I’ll remember that for the rest of my life,” Lavergne said.