Among team sports, American football is unique that the opportunity to play for not just club but country is rare.
In sports such as soccer, ice hockey and even baseball, events like the World Cup, Olympic Games, World Championships and World Baseball Classic provide opportunities for players to represent their countries and play for national pride against the best the rest of the world has to offer.
The problem in American football has been that it’s been pretty much exclusively played by Americans for quite some time. But that’s starting to change. The Canadian CFL has, of course, been around for decades, and the short-lived NFL Europe established the culture of the sport in England and Germany. The popularity of the sport has spread organically to places like Japan, Mexico and Scandinavia, as well.
In 2002, the NFL and NFLPA founded USA Football, to create American national teams for international competitions.
American teams have participated in World Games, World University Championship, and since 2009, the International Bowl, an exhibition where select teams of players aged 14 to 19 players compete against international opponents.
The finale of the 12-game, week-long showcase will take place on Friday, when the USA Football under-19 National Team will take on a team of the best Canadian u-19s at 8 p.m. at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas — the home of the Dallas Cowboys.
Pitt and Western Pennsylvania will be well-represented on the squad. Pitt signees Judson Tallandier II, a defensive back from Dematha Catholic High School in Washington, D.C., and Blake Zubovic, an offensive lineman from Belle Vernon are both going to play in the game. The WPIAL will further be represented by Pine-Richland head coach Eric Kasperowicz, who will coach the defensive linemen for the American squad. The team will be coached by Elijah Brooks, Tallandier’s head coach at Dematha.
— USA Football (@usafootball) January 15, 2018
Pittsburgh Sports Now caught up with Zubovic as he prepared for the game.
PSN: What’s it going to be like to represent your country playing football?
Zubovic: It’s going to be pretty sick. I think it’s pretty cool that it’s about the closest thing to an Olympics that football has to offer at any level. Any time you get the chance to represent your country, that’s pretty cool.
PSN: What does it mean to represent Western Pennsylvania football to the rest of the world?
Zubovic: It’s awesome, because I think Western Pennsylvania is extremely underrated. I mean, you just look at some of the names that have come out of here, and they put no respect on this area. It’s going to be really cool to go out and represent Western Pa.
PSN: What are you looking forward to about the game?
Zubovic: It’s down at AT&T Stadium, which is pretty awesome, and then getting back out there and getting to hit somebody before August.
PSN: What do you hope to take away from the experience?
Zubovic: It’s just another opportunity to get better. You have different coaches. You can learn new things. You never know what you can pick up and learn.
Pitt fans can watch the game, which will be televised on ESPN3.