High school football all-stars from the Houston-Harris County area will take on the world's best at Super Bowl XXXVIII when they face international opposition in the NFL Global Junior Championship VIII.
The annual tournament features the cream of football talent from five countries - USA, Mexico, Russia, Japan and Canada. The teenage all-stars will play a shootout-style jamboree tournament at Houston's Tully Stadium on January 28 and 31 in the build up to the Super Bowl.
Team USA's roster will consist of 36 local football heroes, coached by Katy High School head coach Mike Johnston, who selects his roster from 72 Houston area schools. To reward scholar athletes for their academic achievements, only players who recorded a 3.0 GPA through their junior year will be available for selection. A maximum of three players may be chosen from each school.
"It's a real honor for our coaching staff and our players to be invited to participate in an international event to promote American football," said coach Johnston. "We're exited about it and looking forward to getting to coach some of the best young players in the Houston area.
"I've been watching game film of last year's final and I was particularly impressed with Canada. They are a big physical team and really know the fundamentals of the game. It will be a challenge for us to play at that level of football."
Adding to the local flavor of the event, visiting players from Russia, Mexico, Japan and Canada will live with volunteer host families from Cypress Creek, Stratford, Memorial and Cy-Fair high schools during their stay.
Recent Hall of Fame inductee, former Houston Oilers defensive end Elvin Bethea will serve as an honorary chairman for the event. "I am delighted to be involved with a tournament that focuses on youth and showcases some of best football talent from around the world, " said Bethea. "Whether this is a stepping-stone to a promising career or just a fun experience, I'm sure these young men will enjoy every minute of their time in Texas."
Houston's Team USA will kick off the defense of the NFL Global Junior Championship crown, won by their San Diego counterparts in 2003, against Russia at 2:40 p.m. on Wednesday, January 28.
The second USA opponent provides a rematch of last year's final when Canada clashes with the Houston all-stars at 4:20 p.m., then Japan takes on USA at 6:50 p.m. The first day of action is set for a rousing finale when Mexico and Team USA square off at 8:30 p.m. All first round games are played over two seven-minute quarters.
The top two teams in the final standings will meet in the Championship Game at 4:00 p.m. following medal games on the eve of Super Bowl XXXVIII, Saturday, January 31.
The past three championship games have seen USA triumph over Canada with each game being decided by seven points or less. Last year's final was won dramatically in overtime, as USA overcame a two-touchdown deficit in the closing minutes.
Tickets are available from the five participating high schools priced $6 per day.
NFL GLOBAL JUNIOR CHAMPIONSHIP VIII SCHEDULE OF EVENTS
Wednesday, January 28
First Round games at Tully Stadium, Dairy-Ashford, just south of I-10
1:00 p.m. Russia vs. Mexico 5:10 p.m. Japan vs. Russia
1:50 p.m. Japan vs. Canada 6:00 p.m. Mexico vs. Canada
2:40 p.m. USA vs. Russia 6:50 p.m. USA vs. Japan
3:30 p.m. Mexico vs. Japan 7:40 p.m. Canada vs. Russia
4:20 p.m. USA vs. Canada 8:30 p.m. USA vs. Mexico
Saturday, January 31
Medal games at Tully Stadium (schedule decided by first round final standings)
11:00 p.m. Third placed team vs. Fifth placed team
12:30 p.m. Fifth placed team vs. Fourth placed team
2:00 p.m. Fourth placed team vs. Third placed team
4:00 p.m. Championship Game - First placed team vs. Second placed team