Gabe Infante knows a lot about winning football games.
The head coach at St. Joseph’s Prep (Philadelphia), Infante has led his teams to state titles in 2013, 2014 and this past season when the Hawks were ranked No. 6 in the final Super 25 rankings after going 14-0. Infante was named the Army National Coach of the Year.
He also understands the unique opportunity to coach in the USA Football program, having served as the defensive coordinator in the International Bowl in 2010 and the defensive line coach in 2012 for the U.S. National Team in the World Championships.
Infante hopes to experience both victory and patriotism when he leads the United States’ Under-17 National Team against the Japan National Team as part of International Bowl VIII on Monday night at AT&T Stadium in Texas, home of the Dallas Cowboys. Game time is 8:30 p.m. on ESPN3.
It will be his debut as a head coach for USA Football.
“I will tell the team the same things I would stress back home,” Infante said. “You win because you play together because you respect and love each other. Football is the ultimate team game. You need guys to think of each other rather than themselves. We need guys who have never played with each other to trust each other to do their job, and guys with many different backgrounds to respect each other. We want them to play together as brothers.
“You rarely have an opportunity to represent your country so these are games that mean so much. We also will talk about competition. We want them to compete and we want the most competitive guys out there playing.
“Love, trust, respect, competition — those are the four things that are important to be successful.”
USA Football manages and assembles the national and select teams that will play in the event, which features Japan for the first time. Previous International Bowl events were between the U.S. and Canada. There are seven games over two days.
Infante spoke with USA TODAY High School Sports about the U17 team, how he is preparing and more.
Q: What made you want to get involved in the International Bowl as a head coach?
A: It all begins with the unique opportunity as a coach to represent the country. First and foremost, that’s the No. 1 reason: Be the head coach and represent our nation in competition. Secondly, it’s the gentlemen that I get to coach to with. We hae an amazing staff of very talented head coaches and assistants, and from my perspective that allows me to get professional development. These are great men and I can learn from them. Third, I get to work with some of the best young men you’re going to get a chance to coach. That trifecta is pretty powerful to turn down.
Q: You’ve been a head coach at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl and coached other all-star type games. How is being part of this event different than those games?
A: Those are different because those are showcases where you want to showcase the ability of the players and the magnitude of the relationship with the Army. That’s more important than trying to win the game. This is about trying to winning a football game.
Success begins and ends with assistant coaches and having great assistant coaches to accept their roles. Our coordinators are Steve Speck from St. Xavier in Ohio, Chris Merritt from Christopher Columbus in Miami and Aaron Brady from Malvern Prep (Pa.) and Gonzaga (D.C.). By having coordinators with head coaching experience, it helps install the offense, defense and special teams and trying to bring young men together as a family in a short amount of time. It helps to have good assistant coaches who are talented in their own right. I’m not doing it on my own.
Q: You only get a few days of preparation so how do you manage the practice time to not overwhelm the players but still get installed what you want to get installed?
A: No. 1, you have to get to know your players. You don’t know the capabilities of these guys regardless of watching Hudl tape. You haven’t been around them. No, 2, there’s no tape on the opponent to help with game planning. Coaches are creatures of preparation. In terms of installation, the amount of time needed to do that and get the players to process it and teach the things you want to do are critical to success. One advantage is the experience of the coaches we have. One of the challenges is that you might have players who have not learned a particular scheme you want to run because they come from varying teams and styles of play. In order to marry their strength to to what we want to do, it helps to have guys with a lot of experience.
Q: You have a number of players who have played in the International Bowl at the younger age groups. Does that help and have they been able to share their experiences with the newcomers?
A: Some players have been to developmental camps and we’re fortunate that they have those experiences, but this is a different opportunity. Probably next the U18 game, this is one of the biggest stages they have played on. Their younger than their Japanese counterparts because of the way the ages break down on the international stage. Those players tend to be a little older, whereas we have current sophomore. But we’re playing in AT&T Stadium on ESPN3. I don’t know how many guys have had a chance to do something like that and now they need to respond to playing on the big stage.