July 6, 2009
EAST LANSING, Mich. - Michigan State incoming freshmen Chris Norman and Micajah Reynolds earned gold medals Sunday (July 5), as Team USA defeated top-seeded Canada, 41-3, in the inaugural International Federation of American Football (IFAF) Junior World Championship game before a crowd of 15,473 at Fawcett Stadium in Canton, Ohio. Canada earned the tournament's No. 1 seed by winning three straight NFL Global Junior Championships (2005-07).
Team USA outscored its three tournament opponents, 174-3, including shutout victories over France (78-0) in the opening round and Mexico (55-0) in the semifinals. Canada advanced to the gold-medal game with consecutive wins over New Zealand (55-0) and Japan (38-35).
Team USA dominated play on both sides of the football, as the Americans outgained Canada in total yards, 408-49. Team USA's defense limited Canada to minus 8 yards rushing and five first downs.
Norman, a 6-foot-2, 225-pound linebacker from Detroit Renaissance, was named to the IFAF Junior World Championship All-Tournament Team (first-team defense). He totaled eight tackles during the three-game tournament, with two resulting in losses including a 4-yard sack against Mexico. Norman recorded two solo stops in the championship game against Canada, including a touchdown-saving tackle late in the first quarter as he hauled down Steven Lumbala after a 7-yard run around left end to the USA 14.
"Canada had a talented running back (in Steven Lumbala), and coming into the game, our main goal was to keep him in check," Norman said. "He broke one run for 21 yards and almost bounced outside for a score on another carry, but we had the speed to really neutralize him.
"We're really excited about what we were able to accomplish as a team. We opened training camp with the mindset that we were going to win the gold medal. On paper, we weren't the top seed, but we knew everyone expected us to win. We came out to the field and fulfilled those expectations. We won the gold medal and that's what we came to Canton to do. We will wear this gold medal with great pride."
Norman had the honor of carrying the American flag while leading Team USA onto the field for Sunday's gold-medal game.
"It was a great honor to lead the team out onto the field carrying the American flag," Norman said. "Since the opening-round game against France, it was something that I really wanted to do, and I felt so proud to carry the flag, especially before the championship game.
"The experience with Team USA was more than what I had hoped for. I met some great guys and built some friendships that will last a lifetime. I really enjoyed the field trips that we took as a team, and the training camp set up at Walsh University in North Canton was excellent because it gave us all an opportunity to interact with the players from the seven other nations on a daily basis.
"I also enjoyed working with some of the best high school coaches in the country," Norman continued. "What they helped us accomplish in just three weeks is truly remarkable. They installed complete offensive and defensive packages in that time, and we learned that playbook to a T. They also pushed all of the right buttons throughout the tournament."
Team USA displayed near-perfect balance on offense during the three-game tournament, averaging 238.7 rushing yards and 245.0 passing yards per game while averaging 58.0 points. In the title game against Canada, Team USA relied more on its passing game, as the two quarterbacks combined to complete 25-of-33 throws for 318 yards and four TDs.
Reynolds, a 6-5, 305-pound offensive lineman from Lansing Sexton, saw action at both guard positions during the tournament.
"Canada has a good football team, but we were so mentally prepared and focused that we weren't going to be denied the gold medal," Reynolds said. "Without that focus and intensity, the game would have been much closer. We avoided committing major mental mistakes and as a result, we really put on a good show for the fans in Canton.
"It feels mighty good to win the Junior World Championship and the gold medal is mighty heavy. I definitely will wear the gold medal with great pride.
"Offensively, we executed pretty well against Canada. We gave up one sack but that came from some miscommunication in the huddle. So the line did a really good job of protecting both quarterbacks. We also ran the ball well when we had to. We had a couple of three-and-out series in the first half and that was frustrating, but after that, the offense really hit its stride."
Like Norman, Reynolds said the last three weeks are full of memories.
"I absolutely loved this entire experience with Team USA," Reynolds said. "It wound up being an even greater experience that I had imagined. I loved the camaraderie with my teammates. I have made so many new friends that I intend to keep in touch with for years to come.
"After today's championship game against Canada, one of the guys from New Zealand stopped by my dorm room and gave me a T-shirt. He said that he just wanted to thank me for hanging out with him for the last three weeks. He said that he was disappointed that his team didn't play better (in the tournament), but overall, he had an enjoyable experience. Those comments made me feel good."