Football is easily the most popular sport in the United States, and the local support for youth football is large.
The same cannot be said for other countries, such as Australia, where soccer and rugby reign supreme.
However, a company named Down Under Sports is attempting to increase the popularity of “gridiron” football in Australia, and recently recruited over 100 high school players from the U.S. to participate in the program.
Daniel Carlson, a recent graduate of Kenai Central High School, was one of 140 young men throughout the nation who was invited to go to Australia this summer and play the sport.
“I was able to do it because of the community,” Carlson said. “It was just local businesses and my family and friends that helped out, and it was just awesome.”
With the necessary funds raised from community support to allow him to travel, Carlson spent over a week on the “Gold Coast” of Australia, in the town of Brisbane to compete in the tournament designed to boost popularity in the sport. Down Under Sports also works with football, track and field, cross country, wrestling, cheerleading and volleyball participants to represent not only the United States, but their individual states and communities as well.
“The Down-Under Bowl is an international bowl, with six different teams,” Carlson said. “We went and competed against each other, so it was more of a competition.”
Carlson explained that each team was made up of players from different states, with the “big football states,” such as California and Texas, primarily on one team, and the smaller states, such as Alaska, Montana and Wyoming, grouped together.
There were also a number of local, Australian athletes scattered through the teams, and the experience provided them a way to improve and learn about the sport. Carlson mentioned the American athletes included some fantastic talent, with a few of the players planning on attending such colleges like the University of Alabama.
“It was a playoff system, and once you lose a game, you’re pretty much out of the running to win first place,” Carlson said. “My team’s name was the Mustangs, and there were kids for Australia who had played before, but from what I’ve heard, they loved the experience.”
Carlson was the lone representative from Alaska, and competed with his team in the tournament, only to come up short with a last-place finish. He was able to learn different plays and techniques, and was also able to get out and enjoy some of the various indigenous animals, such as kangaroos, koalas and the many varieties of local birds.
“I definitely feel like I improved,” he said. “I feel like our team didn’t play to the best of our abilities, we made some mistakes, mostly just dumb mistakes, but I made a few mistakes that I learned from.
“The Australian players on my team, I’d see them make very few mistakes, maybe like once or twice, but other than that they didn’t make any mistakes. It was simple positioning, I just saw corners on wide receivers that was just simple positions, just keep the wide receivers in front of you.”
Of course, the big sports down under include soccer (known as the real football) and rugby.
“Rugby is really popular down there, and I watched some rugby down there but it didn’t look as quite as intense as football,” he said.
The 10 days total that he was there helped improve his game, and he hopes to play for Brigham Young University-Idaho after taking some time off to complete his mission for his church.
“I’m hoping to play at BYU-Idaho, because I have a lot of family there, but my religion is my priority right now,” he said. “I’m focused on my mission right now. If I do that now, and then play football for BYU, I’ll have three more years of maturity, so that’s the plan.”
Upon his arrival back in Alaska, Carlson helped lead and organize a two-day football camp for younger players, ranging from grades one through seven.
With the knowledge and experience of playing alongside an international cast of athletes, Carlson has a new enjoyment of the game.
“It’s fast-paced, you have to know what you’re doing, and everyone there pretty much knew their position and knew where they were supposed to be, so we were able to learn plays and it wasn’t anything really difficult, but I learned a lot,” he said.