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U.S. Men’s National Team kicks the rust off in early practices

0630.Men's NT Hogan

The U.S. Men’s National Team completed its first day of practice Monday at the University of Akron in preparation for the International Federation of American Football (IFAF) World Championship.

The Americans did an hour and a half walkthrough Monday morning at InfoCision Stadium, which included setting up the base offensive and defensive formations.

A more spirited practice followed in the afternoon, though that practice was moved inside to Akron’s Stile Athletic Field House because of heavy rain in the area.

The first two days of practice are almost entirely about basic philosophy and making sure everyone knows where to line up.

“I am impressed at how quickly the guys are picking up on what we are installing,” U.S. head coach Dan Hawkins said. “They came into camp in good shape. I like our attitude and team chemistry. As a coach, you are never satisfied, but I am pleased at where we are after the first day of camp.”

Training camp continues through July 7, when the team reports to Walsh University for the tournament, which is July 9-18 at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton.

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BIG PLAYERS FROM SMALL PROGRAMS. For Luc Meacham and Kevin Burke of the University of Mount Union and Ryan Hogan (main photo) of Trine University, being on the U.S. National Team gives these NCAA Division III athletes a chance to test their skills with teammates from NCAA Division I schools.

Meacham was an All-American with 1,730 yards and 21 touchdowns receiving in his career. Burke was the two-time Gagliardi Trophy winner as the Division III Player of the Year and a three-time All-American. He threw for 4,412 yards and 52 TDs in his senior year alone. Hogan is Trine’s all-time sacks leader and was a finalist for the Cliff Harris Award, which is given to the top small-college defensive player.

“It’s humbling to be chosen for a team with guys from so many quality Division I programs,” Meacham said. “They have welcomed the D-3 guys. I feel like I belong with this group and can’t wait to represent my country on the football field.”

“It was an honor to be asked to be a part of the U.S. National Team,” Burke said. “I’m very excited to play with some of the best players from top schools in the country. I’m adjusting to the speed of the game, and I have some things I need to work on, but so far I’m happy with my performance.”

“The most difficult area for me so far is that we are running different schemes than I am used to,” Hogan said. “There are more athletes here on both sides of the line of scrimmage, but we had big, quick guys in Division III as well. I don’t feel like I’m over my head, and I am excited to be playing with a great bunch of talented players.”

A DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVE. Trent Steelman spent his entire college career preparing to represent his country. After four years at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, the quarterback turned wide receiver from Bowling Green, Ky., is now a member of the U.S. Army Reserves and is ready to defend his country when he is called upon.

“Any time you have the opportunity to wear your country’s colors it is an honor,” Steelman said. “I spent the past four seasons training at West Point, so I may see things from a different perspective. At Army, I was playing for something more important than football, and I never take that for granted. It is an honor it is to be a part of the U.S. National Team.”

GOING FOR A SECOND GOLD. Wide receiver Kevin Cummings of Oregon State is no stranger to competing for a World Championship in American football. Cummings was a member of the U.S. squad at the 2009 IFAF Under-19 World Championship in Canton, where the Americans rolled to the gold medal, outscoring their opponents 136-3 in three games.

“(That) was an amazing experience,” Cummings said. “When I got the invitation to play in this tournament, I jumped at the chance. To get the opportunity to represent the USA for a second time is a blessing.”

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