TAMPA — For three Tampa high-school athletes, a typical summer of football preparation has turned into the opportunity of a lifetime.
Former Jesuit running back/linebacker Vinny LoSauro and former Sickles quarterback Jake O’Donnell — along with Tampa Bay Tech rising senior running back Treshaun Ward — were selected to compete for the 45-player Team USA in the bi-annual International Federation of American Football Under-19 World Championships. The event is held at Mexico City’s Olympic Stadium, site of the 1968 Summer Games.
"It’s a huge honor,’’ said LoSauro (5-foot-11, 195 pounds), who will play at Ohio Wesleyan University. "Not many people get a chance to do something like this. I can’t wait.’’
"I really didn’t see this coming,’’ said O’Donnell (6-4, 175), who is bound for James Madison University, a Football Championship Subdivision powerhouse program. "It’s a privilege to represent my country.’’
With LoSauro and O’Donnell, it will be more of a natural transition as they prepare for college football.
Youngblood (5-9, 185) faces more of a challenge.
He has undergone TBT’s normal summer conditioning. The trio departed on July 3 for Northern Arizona University and the Team USA training camp. Team USA opens the tournament on Saturday against Australia. With a victory, it advances to the semifinal on Thursday against the Mexico-Japan winner. With a second victory, it will play for a gold medal on July 22.
The USA is seeded No. 2 behind top-seeded Canada, a reflection of the Canadian championship in the 2016 event. Sweden is the other competing nation.
"We have a chip on our shoulder because we didn’t win the last one,’’ USA Football senior manager of football Aaron Ingram said. "But every day, I have a better feel about this one because I think we’ve assembled a really special group of kids.
"We think a lot of Jake. The quarterbacks are really important in these types of games. Jake’s a great fit for us not only because of his physical skills, but because of his leadership and personality. He’s the kind of guy you find yourself gravitating toward. I think this will really be a great experience for him.’’
O’Donnell established a relationship with USA Football in 2016, when he attended a regional development camp, which led to a spot in the USA Developmental Games.
"I haven’t played in a game since October (Sickles’ finale) and I’m going to redshirt (at JMU) … so that will be a lot of time without me playing in a game,’’ O’Donnell said. "I’ll be able to play in three games in Mexico. I get to represent my country and at the same time knock off some of the rust.
"I’ve never been out of the country before, so this is a pretty big experience for me. I can’t wait.’’
LoSauro played three seasons of linebacker at Jesuit before shifting to running back as a senior. He’s expected to play running back in college, but Team USA will first give him a look at linebacker.
"I feel like I can play any position they need me to play,’’ LoSauro said. "I’m eager to get out there and show what I can do.’’
Ward, meanwhile, continues to study his future options as he enters his senior season.
He already has received offers from schools in the ACC (Louisville, North Carolina, Virginia Tech); American Athletic Conference (Cincinnati, East Carolina, USF); Big Ten (Indiana, Maryland, Minnesota, Nebraska, Purdue); Pac-12 (Oregon); and SEC (Kentucky, Missouri).
Ward, who rushed for 1,272 yards and 15 touchdowns last season as a TBT junior, said the Team USA opportunity is unique.
"I’m blessed to be able to represent my country,’’ Ward said.
Ingram said the Team USA players will be stepping into an environment that should be extremely memorable.
"We already have received inquiries for press interviews and appearances in Mexico, so I think the local community will really be behind this event,’’ Ingram said. "I’ve been to the venue. The playing surface and stadium are beautiful. It’s going to be a big-time thing.
"Certainly there was a time when Team USA would be head and shoulders above other countries in football, but there has been so much improvement and exposure throughout the world. Mexico City would like to have its own NFL franchise, so that’s an area with great football interest. From a football and cultural perspective, this is going to be a once-in-a-lifetime type of experience.’’
Contact Joey Johnston at [email protected]