July 3, 2009
EAST LANSING, Mich. - After recording back-to-back shutouts in lopsided victories over France (78-0) and Mexico (55-0), Team USA prepares to face top-seeded Canada in the gold-medal game of the inaugural International Federation of American Football (IFAF) Junior World Championship Sunday, July 5 at 1 p.m. ET in Canton, Ohio. Team USA's 45-man roster, comprised of players 19 and under, features Michigan State incoming freshmen Chris Norman (Detroit Renaissance) and Micajah Reynolds (Lansing Sexton).
The gold-medal game will be televised live by Fox College Sports Atlantic, with Kevin Eschenfelder, Charles Davis and Samantha Steele calling the action from Fawcett Stadium. The IFAF Junior World Championship game also will be streamed live on FoxCollegeSports.com and carried live on DirecTV Channel 617. Real-time statistics and play-by-play will be available on JWC Football.com.
Canada advanced to the gold-medal game with consecutive wins over New Zealand (55-0) and Japan (38-35).
Norman, who recorded three solo tackles including a 4-yard sack in the semifinal against Mexico, said Team USA's defense will approach the gold-medal game with the same attitude it has had throughout the tournament.
"The most-physical team will win the game," Norman said. "So we're going to smack Team Canada right in the mouth to start the game, and we're going to have to withstand its counterpunches. Team Canada came into this tournament as the No. 1 seed, so we have to take care of business on Sunday. Nobody is going to hand us the championship; we're going to have to go out there and earn it with a four-quarter effort.
"This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience: to represent your country against the best players from around the world. This has been a really unique opportunity, and the only way to close out this tournament is with a win in the championship game."
Reynolds, who has seen significant playing time at both left and right guard, has been impressed with the way the team has come together over the last three weeks.
"Things were really awkward when the players first reported for training camp," Reynolds said. "Guys were walking around the airport and our training facility (at Walsh University) wearing all different college hoodies. It's amazing how we've really grown together as a team. The competition for playing time has been intense in practice, but that competition has brought out the best in each of us. Egos have been set aside for the good of the team. This experience is something that I'll remember forever."
Both players believe that they have benefitted from competing in the Junior World Championship.
"This tournament has certainly helped me from a football-conditioning standpoint," Norman said. "I've had pads on for three weeks, and I've gained a little game experience. I've really focused on improving my techniques as a linebacker, and I really believe that I've been able to fine tune some things. I'll report to Michigan State as an even better player because I've taken full advantage of this opportunity."
"I moved around (the offensive line) a little bit in high school, but definitely not to the extent that I have here as a member of Team USA," Reynolds said. "Basically, I'm changing (guard) positions every other play and that's been really cool. From a mental standpoint, it's been a great challenge, but I love learning new things. Over the last three weeks, I've learned a completely different style of offense. Coach (Chuck) Kyle has stressed the importance of learning from adversity and making adjustments. So I've just learned to roll with things, and it's made me a better player."
Since training camp opened June 13, both Norman and Reynolds have impressed their Team USA position coaches.
"Michigan State is getting a real exciting player in Chris Norman," Team USA linebackers coach (head coach at Dallas Carter High School) Allen Wilson said. "He has all of the physical tools, plus he's a very intelligent player. Chris has been a steady playmaker throughout this tournament. So with his athletic ability and intelligence, he has the potential to become a special player at the collegiate level."
"Wow, I love Chris Norman's motor," Fox College Sports color analyst Charles Davis added. "He was all over the field in the semifinal game against Mexico. Chris really caught my attention when he made back-to-back plays in the second quarter against Mexico. On first down, he stepped up and popped the running back in the hole for no gain, and then on the very next play, he sacked the quarterback. Sometimes, young players relax after making a good play, but not this young man. He never lost focus.
"This entire tournament experience will give Chris a huge advantage when he reports for Michigan State's preseason camp next month. He'll report to camp with some confidence, especially if he can help bring home the championship banner for Team USA. Chris has already been through two-a-days with Team USA, and he's been well coached here because all of these assistant coaches have won championships in their respective states. Freshmen often report to campus a little wide-eyed, but this tournament will take the stars out of his eyes. And that's a good thing for Chris because I believe that he'll have an opportunity to play early in his career."
"Micajah Reynolds has such a great upside," Team USA offensive line coach (head coach at Mount Carmel [Chicago]) Frank Lenti said. "Micajah was a two-year starter in high school, but here all 45 guys have been starters, so it's been good for him to learn how to blend in when he's not playing with the first group. He's learning a different work ethic too because all of the linemen here are so talented that he can't simply rely on his athletic ability like he did in high school. We've also asked Micajah to learn both guard positions, so he's been taught the proper left- and right-hand techniques, depending on what side of the center he's lined up on. This versatility can help make him a more complete player for Mark Dantonio and Dan Roushar at Michigan State. I've been friends with Dan for 25 years, so I know what his expectations are going to be for a young lineman. And from what I've seen over the last three weeks, Micajah is going to fit in great at MSU because he's a true team player."
"I really like Micajah Reynolds' frame," Davis added. "He's been asked to play on both sides of the center for Team USA, depending upon the formation called. So that's a positive for a young lineman to learn some versatility. I really like what I saw from Micajah against Mexico, so I believe he's going to develop into a good one (offensive lineman) for Michigan State."
Spartan Extra Points:
FCS and Big Ten Network color analyst Charles Davis has been impressed by what Mark Dantonio has accomplished in his first two seasons at Michigan State, guiding the Spartans to back-to-back bowl appearances.
"I'm a huge fan of Mark Dantonio's and I have been from the word go," Davis said during halftime of Wednesday's Team USA-Mexico game. "I thought it was a tremendous hire by Michigan State in December 2006. The accelerated growth of the program has been remarkable. Michigan State backs down from no one on its schedule. If Michigan State loses a game, it's because the other team played better on that day. Michigan State is so fundamentally sound that it no longer beats itself with mistakes.
"Coach Dantonio is building something special and his work has not gone unnoticed on the national scene. For the first time in a long while, people across the country are talking about Michigan State football and the Spartans. He has built a winning program at Michigan State and bowl games now are an expectation, not a hope. With Coach Dantonio leading the program, I wouldn't be surprised to see the Spartans competing for Big Ten championships on a regular basis."
Team USA offensive line coach Frank Lenti coached Michigan State sophomore lineman Arthur Ray Jr. at Mount Carmel High School in Chicago, Ill. After Team USA's 55-0 victory over Mexico Wednesday, Coach Lenti shared these thoughts on Arthur's recovery.
"Finally, Arthur Ray is starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel," Coach Lenti said. "He's been a terrific battler, and his family has been great in terms of providing the daily support and encouragement. Everyone associated with Mount Carmel loves Arthur, and they've certainly done their part through various fund raisers to try and provide additional financial support for his medical bills. But most of all, I admire Coach (Mark) Dantonio and Michigan State University for standing by Arthur Ray and his family throughout this hardship. I'm truly looking forward to the day that Arthur gets that leg totally healthy, so he can get back onto the field and realize his dream of playing college football.
"At Mount Carmel, students naturally rallied around Arthur because they knew he had a real concern and genuine interest in them as individuals. He has a big, toothy smile that can light up an entire room. That's why there are so many of us hoping for the day that Arthur can realize his dream."