Top football players get to play for their high school. Some get to play for their college. Even fewer get to play in National Football League.
A select group, though, get to play for their country.
USA Football, the national governing body for the sport, begins two weeks of activity in the Dallas area on Monday, capped by the Feb. 7 International Bowl against Team Canada at the University of Texas-Arlington.
Among the players scheduled to play in the International Bowl are Allen (Texas) QB Kyler Murray, the American Family Insurance ALL-USA Offensive Player of the Year; Allen receiver Jaylen Guyton, a Notre Dame commit; and Detroit Cass running back Mike Weber, an Ohio State commit.
Starting at age 15, players can participate in the USA Football national team program at 24 regional camps across the country. The top players go to national team development opportunities with the goal of getting the top 100 for the international games.
Players for the Under-15, Under -16, Under-17 and Under-18 will begin arriving Monday and start practicing.
The Under-18 game is Jan. 30 at AT&T Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys. On Jan. 31, the day begins with the U.S. select team against a team representing the International Federation of American Football that features about 100 players from 12 counties. Saturday concludes with the Under-15, Under 16 and Under-17 in their respective games.
Players for the Under-19 team begin arriving Feb. 2. The organization sponsors a National Signing Day Celebration on Feb. 4 and then the game on Feb. 7. College and high school coaches provide instruction throughout the week.
All games will be shown online via ESPN3.
USA TODAY High School Sports spoke with Garrett Shea, the senior director for USA Football to talk about the upcoming events.
Shea is a former executive director of the U.S. Army All-American Bowl and played college football at Rutgers for his father, Terry, who also coached in the NFL.
Q: Can you talk about the International Bowl and why are these events significant for the USA Football mission?
A: USA Football serves as the nationally governing body for the sport. That makes us really unique in a relationship with the NCAA, the National Federation of High Schools and we’re in the process of going through the application process with the USOC. We field and manage official U.S. national teams.
It’s a great opportunity we afford athletes and coaches to have the chance to represent your country in international competition. I had the privilege to play college football nad it’s great to play for my university. To play for the country is a special and unique moment and to coach for the national team and lead the national team is one of the most special opportunities in football.
Q: How are the teams selected at the various levels?
A: The international world, they use age as the defining factor in who can play. In the U.S., we work off grade level. Seventh and eighth grade is under 15, ninth grade is under 16, 10th grade is under 17, 11th grade is under 18 and 12th grade is under 19. We try to be consistent with the grade levels.
One of our goals is to give any athlete across America to try out for the national team and earn a spot on the football field. The NCAA has afforded us the chance to bring in current NCAA coaches and the players get a chance to compete in front of NCAA coaches and learn from them. The coaches range from Division I-A to Division III. They help us evaluate the athlete and play a key role in our decision-making process an USA Football ultimately selects them to play for the United States. It’s a great experience for the kids to be out on the field and learning and say I’m going to earn my spot on the U.S. national team.
Q: How does the International Bowl differ from the U.S. Army All-American Bowl or the Under Armour All-American game or the other showcase games?
A: I ran the Army All-American Bowl and they do a great job from an all-star perspective, but this is not an all-star game. The biggest factor that I would point to is we’re building our teams to be ambassadors for the game with the goal of competing and winning on the football field. We believe strongly that football teaches great life lessons and the U.S. national team is constructed to beat teams.
The best players are going to play and earn their time. What you won’t see on the field is a mass rotation. The starters will play the majority of the game. We are playing to win at the end of the day and beat our opponent. The level of competition and product on the field is the one thing that sets us apart from all-star games or showcases. A lot of these kids have played together for four years in the program and this is another chance to play together.
Q: As the rosters are selected, how much impact do player rankings from the recruiting services come into play, if at all?
A: Good football players are good football players. We don’t look much at Rivals or Scout or 247 Sports. They’re doing it right for what they do in trying to find out are the future prospects.
We feel good about our track record for he U.S. national team. We rely on the USA Football staff and national team coaches to evaluate the players. We’re picking and selecting the team as a team. I don’t think you’ll ever see we have the No. 1 quarterback and the No. 1 wide receiver and the No. 1 player at each position. It is a mixture of different personalities and guys with team mindsets. The name on the front of the jersey means more than the name on the back. Guys are coming to play for the United States, not for themselves.
Q: What are the prospects for football becoming an Olympic sport?
A: That is our hope. I think it’s a dream of a lot of young football players to have the chance to represent the United States of America in the Olympics. We’re taking all the steps with the USOC and the IOC to someday have the possibility to have football become an Olympic sport. It would be a great thing if it happens in my career.