On January 16 and 17, a handful of local football players got to do something they had only dreamed of to that point: Play football in an NFL stadium.
Through USA Football’s International Bowl held at the Dallas Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, 15 Kentuckiana football players ranging from 13-17-years old got to meet and play against other players in their age group from across the United States, Canada and even Japan.
The International Bowl was a training camp that brought in players and their families to Texas from Jan. 12-17, with the trip culminating in games played at AT&T Stadium and broadcasted on ESPN3, ESPN’s digital broadcasting service.
The players included; DeSales sophomore defensive end Cameron Perry and Kentucky Country Day junior linebacker Christopher Scott (both U.S. U-17 Select Team), West Washington freshman offensive lineman Caleb Murphy (U.S. U-16 National Team), West Washington freshman defensive back Chase Farmer and Trimble Co. defensive end Ryker Matthews (U.S. U-16 Select Team), Ryley Gunther of Sellersburg, Ind. (U-15 Pride Team), Caleb Winnebrunner of Louisville and Gunner Flanagan of Borden, Ind., (both U-14 Stars Team), and Ike Baker of Mitchell, Ind. and Kody Walsh of Columbus, Ind., (both U-14 Stripes Team).
Participants were notified via e-mail in October of their inclusion in the event, after having been scouted first at a regional development camp and then a national camp held at the home of the NFL Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
Most of the players found out themselves, but one family surprised their son with the news.
“Actually I didn’t receive the e-mail so my dad surprised me with a cake,” Murphy said. “It was really crazy, super exciting and I was ready to go to the camp and see what they had. It was a really exciting time.”
Once at the International Bowl on Jan. 12, the players were roomed together with teammates from across the country, giving them a chance to learn about life outside of the Kentuckiana region.
“It was awesome because you got to meet people from different backgrounds and find out what it’s like where they’re from, stuff like that,” Perry said. “We talked about the people that they’ve played against, or that they go to school with people going to Alabama who are five-star players.”
Due to rain in the area, a jamboree between teams within each age group was canceled, but players still got to take part in two practices a day and team meetings, learning from coaches from across the country.
“It was an extremely high level, nothing like high school practices,” Perry said, “because you’ve got starters and second stringers who are all the same level. There’s no dropoff in talent.”
After four days of practices, it was gameday. USA Football organized the games similarly to the way it would be for Dallas Cowboys opponents on Sundays, busing the team into the stadium and having them use the home and away locker rooms.
From there, players took part in warmups on the field in front of their families and friends before the game got underway.
Many of the players interviews admitted they were impressed with and at times couldn’t take their eyes off of the mammoth size of the stadium and its jumbotron, which is 60-yards long and extends from one 20-yard line to the 20-yard line on the other side of the field.
“It was amazing,” Matthews said. “Just stepping out onto the field is something else.”
Added Murphy, “I kind of found myself drifting off (when on the sidelines) and following the game on the jumbotron saying ‘Am I where I am right now’.”
Most of the local players didn’t make huge contributions in the games, but enjoyed the experience of taking part in the International Bowl.
“Getting to step out on to the AT&T Stadium field with the whole team, and just the rush of playing on the field against the different countries and people,” Matthews said of what he’ll take with him. “The whole thing was pretty much a blast.”
For Scott, the week in Texas was about improving his technique and getting to practice at a higher level.
“I really think it’s a huge learning experience for anybody,” Scott said. “When I came back to school everyone was asking me about it, and I was telling them I think everybody who wants to play college at the next level, that’s a good place to go to be able to play with talented kids. It’s a lot of fun.”