In Super Bowl Hypefest to Come, High Stakes for Foreign Football Players

It's liable to get lost in the avalanche of pregame media coverage, but on January 30, Fort Lauderdale's Lockhart Stadium will host the first-ever Junior World Championship, pitting 45 of America's best football players against 45 of the best who play the sport outside the U.S.

For the age 19-and-under foreign players, this is the Super Bowl -- maybe bigger, considering they're not playing for a shiny ring and huge trophy but in many cases, for a college scholarship.

"It most definitely gives them a stage to perform they wouldn't otherwise have," says Steve Alic, a spokesman for USA Football, the Virginia-based federation that organized the game, which is part of the official NFL Pro Bowl Week festivities. "I don't think you can overstate the significance for these (foreign) football players of playing footbal in the U.S. in what will be the epicenter of the sport, with the Pro Bowl and Super Bowl."

The "Team USA v. the World" game will air at 1 p.m. on the NFL Network. Among the familiar faces: Chris Merritt, head coach of local powerhouse, Miami Christopher Columbus High School, who is couching the American team. His quarterbacks coach will be Steve Walsh, the former Miami Hurricane star who's currently coaching at Cardinal Newman in West Palm Beach.

Some local players of note: Tony Grimes, the star cornerback for Hollywood Hills; Ethan Grant, the running back from North Broward Prep. There are seven others from Miami-Dade.

Most of the Team World players are from Canada, but in all there are eight nations represented on four continents. There's a wide receiver from France, a linebacker from Mexico, a running back from Sweden. In a tournament last July in Canton, Ohio, Japan's football team nearly toppled Canada in the semifinals. Ultimately, the Canadians lost to the U.S. team, which has an extraordinary advantage, given the popularity of the sport relative to other nations.

For a sense of those players' excitement, check out this article in the Toronto Star about one of the World Team quarterbacks, Brandon Bridge.

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