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U.S., Japan set to battle in Global Challenge Bowl

by Kaz Nagatsuka

KAWASAKI — At first glance, it looks to have replaced its predecessor. But the main concept actually offers a whole lot of new excitement to the young participants.

The inaugural Global Challenge Bowl, which has taken the place of the NFL Global Junior Championship that was held along with Super Bowls in the past few years, will be played between the Japan and United States Under-19 national teams in Kawasaki Stadium at 2 p.m. on Saturday.

The GJC was not held at last month’s Super Bowl in Glendale, Ariz.

The idea was hatched by the Japan American Football Association (JAFA), which invited the U.S. youth team to Kawasaki, the host city for the IAFA World Championships in 2007, because the organization was eager to continue the growth of the game in Japan.

However, while the GJC was purely a tournament to determine the world’s best in the age class, the GCB focuses more on interaction and exchanging and sharing cultures of their own, earning some friendship, rather than just pursuing a win in a ballgame.

U.S. head coach Jeff Scurran selected 40 players age 19 or under from 12 states and 27 high schools, and formed the squad with student-athletes that perform well as role models in classroom, not just based on what they do on the gridiron.

Scurran said at a news conference Tuesday that the grade-point-average of the players is 3.6 on average (the maximum GPA is 4.0).

Meanwhile, the Japanese team consists of 40 collegiate and four high school players of top-level schools.

The American team arrived in Japan on Monday, and despite the tight schedule ahead, the U.S. players were quickly able to quench their tiredness by seeing the host families they will live with during the Japanese stay.

“(The American players) got rid of their fatigue from the trip by seeing their respective host families,”ex-NFL Europa player Shinzo Yamada, who works is managing director of the game, said with a smile. “I really hope that fans come out for the game.”

After wrapping up their Tuesday practice, Team USA athletes shed their pads and helmets and got a taste of Japanese culture. They observed the sumo and kendo practice at Tokyo University of Agriculture and also visited a Kawasaki high school and interacted with the students in activities such as making food and Japanese fans.

“That was actually a great experience for us because we were able to make sushi, which I had never done in my life,” U.S. running back / linebacker Troy Smith said excitedly.

Team USA is also scheduled to watch the Boston Red Sox-Yomiuri Giants exhibition game at Tokyo Dome on Sunday night, before returning home on Monday.

Yet, on Saturday, once they put their jerseys on, both squads will go all out, fighting for pride and victory.

“We’ve assembled the best players from all over Japan,” Japan captain and defensive lineman Yusuke Ashina of Keio University said. “We’ve never beat the Americans before, so we would like to play a game that will be go down in the history books.”

Said Scurran: “I talked to several coaches who had competed against the Japanese teams at the former events at the Super Bowl, and found out how competitive they were. I know this is going to be a very difficult football game for us.”