NORTH CANTON, Ohio – Walk past a football practice field last week at Walsh University, a small school located just a few miles from the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Ohio, and the first thing you would notice were a bunch of high school-aged kids from Japan running a football play.
Walk another 200 yards, and you would have seen France‘s U-19 national team. Keep walking toward the back of Walsh‘s athletic fields, and there you would have found the “dream team,“ both players and coaches, of USA youth football.
Among them: Chicago Mount Carmel quarterback Jordan Lynch, a Northern Illinois recruit, and longtime Caravan head coach Frank Lenti. Crowds of people gathered to watch Team USA practice, and thousands more (15,473, to be exact) went to Fawcett Stadium last Sunday to watch the first-ever U-19 national team win the inaugural International Federation of American Football (IFAF) Junior World Championship.
The USA, which won its first two games over France and Mexico by a combined 132-0, blasted Canada 41-3 in the title game. Lynch, who led Mount Carmel to the Class 8A quarterfinals last season, was one of four captains for the USA. His family and friends drove to Ohio to watch the games. How’s that for a memorable summer?
“Just coming out here, playing with the best kids in the country and then to pick me as a captain, it’s a great experience,” Lynch said. “I mean, they trust me, they believe in me. It’s fun, just coming out here and practicing, playing different countries. It’s awesome.”
Lenti, one of nine assistant coaches to Team USA head coach Chuck Kyle of Cleveland St. Ignatius High School, talked of Lynch proudly.
“You know, you’re taking 45 kids from across the country, and to be one of the four captains. It makes us very proud because I think it also shows that his three years on the varsity at Mt. Carmel, he learned something about being a good leader,” Lenti said.
Incredibly, Lynch was named captain while learning a position he hadn’t played in five years. With Bryce Petty of Midlothian, Texas, a Baylor recruit, starting at quarterback (14-of-14 in the title game for 190 yards and three touchdowns), Lynch moved to safety so that he was playing and not sitting.
“When I talked to him,” Lenti said, “I told him, ‘You know, essentially, you’d be the backup to the backup quarterback. That’s what makes you so valuable because we know you can play more than one position, and even though you haven’t played defense since grammar school, I know you can do this.’ ”
Lynch wound up not only learning the position in a couple of weeks, but started for a team which yielded just three points in three games.
“I played safety, I think, in eighth grade,” said Lynch, who arrived at Mount Carmel as a linebacker and running back until he switched to quarterback his freshman year. “It was fun, though. Just moving around, flying around, hitting people, not thinking too much.”
At Northern Illinois, a Mid-American Conference school, Lynch is expected to compete for a spot at quarterback, although now Huskies head coach Jerry Kill will be aware of Lynch’s football versatility.
“I talked to Coach Kill, and he said he was going to give me first shot at quarterback," Lynch said. "If that doesn’t work out, then probably safety or something.”
Lynch was the only player from Illinois selected for the team, which consisted of 2009 high school graduates headed to college teams in the fall. Players were selected through a nomination process, and team officials were appreciative of college coaches allowing their incoming freshmen to participate.
“When you stop and think about it, you have 45 kids from around the country, and you have one youngster selected from not only the state of Illinois, not only Chicago, but from our very own program,” Lenti said. “Because I didn’t get to pick Jordan; we nominated kids, and he was picked by a committee.”
The playing roster was impressive enough; every player is a Division I recruit. But Kyle also went national with his coaching staff, from Lenti to Allen Wilson of Dallas Carter to Chris Merritt of Miami Christopher Columbus to Tom Bainter of Bothell, Wash. Every day, it seemed, was a coaching clinic, which in itself was a plus for Lenti.
“It’s been great …,” Lenti said. “When you get to spend every day with different people, you get different takes on their philosophy from different parts of the country. I think all the coaches, it’s not just coaching the kids, but what we can take back to our own programs to make our own programs better.”
Lynch was thankful he had his high school coach there.
“Coach Lenti, he’s a god back home and he’s a god here,” Lynch said. “It’s great to have him because he’s the one who taught me more about the game at Carmel and everything. He’s like a father figure to me.”
Once arriving in Canton in the middle of June, Team USA came together quickly. Team USA did not have to previously qualify for the tournament because it was the host country, although the other seven teams in Canton looked at the USA’s players in awe.
“There’s no doubt, they are what we are in hockey. It’s a good measuring stick for everyone,” Canada head coach Glen Constantin said.
The USA practiced for just two weeks before playing its first game, a 77-0 win over France. When they were not on the field, they were bonding by going to movies, playing miniature golf or going to batting cages, or just hanging around the dorms at Walsh University.
“All the players, they’re real cool to hang around with. They just love having fun, playing football,” Lynch said.
Lynch had visited the Pro Football Hall of Fame when he was 8 years old and in Ohio to play in a youth baseball tournament, but the football championships were a dream trip. Team USA were the guests of the Cleveland Indians for a baseball game, and Kyle threw out the first pitch.
All the players also got a tour of the Cleveland Browns’ home stadium and locker room, and a trip to the Pro Football Hall of Fame produced $24,000 in discounted sales for the Hall of Fame’s gift shop, said Steve Alic, a USA Football spokesman.
Overall, the Junior World Championships produced an economic impact of nearly $5 million in the Canton area.
Once the championship game ended last Sunday and the last handshake was extended, it was back to business for Team USA. Lynch had one day to spend at home before heading for Northern Illinois summer workouts. Lenti’s Mount Carmel team began its summer workouts Tuesday.
“I’m excited to go back,” Lenti said. “It’s the first chance I have to see our kids since the end of the school year.”
Paul Bowker covers the Chicago area for MaxPreps. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org