Beaver football in Italy
By Rustin Pickett, sports information assistant
June 16, 2005
BLUFFTON, Ohio - "An experience of a lifetime" is the phrase that starts off the stories of Bluffton University football players and coaches, as they flew home on May 25, from their 15 day excursion in Italy. The Beavers went overseas to play against the Italian National team and fulfill the cross cultural requirement.
"We got everything we wanted out of the trip," Greg Brooks, head football coach said. "All the goals we had as a team were met on and off the field."
The Beavers were able to do some fine tuning before their debut against the Italian National football team, which was composed of 15 American servicemen and 25 Italian nationals. To prepare, Bluffton football players were allowed 10 spring practices by the NCAA before their departure overseas. "We had a chance to work on a lot of stuff," Brooks said. "The team was in good condition because of the practices." Once the squad touched down in Venice and enjoyed the sights for a day, they hit the practice field for one last time with much enthusiasm as game day was right around the corner.
After a night of dreaming about making tackles for a loss and establishing the run game, the Beavers took off towards the game field, in Trieste, behind their new tri-captains, Jared Owens, a junior from Van Wert, Jon Mershman, a junior from Ottawa and Bryan Lloyd, a junior from Elida. Even though the Beavers entered the game with a minimum air attack, the players and staff felt confident in their game plan. "We had some former receivers and had them fill the position," Brooks said. "We ran the ball most of the time but didn't feel at a disadvantage."
Bluffton was very successful as they won the game 75-0. Even though the score was lopsided the Beavers felt it was a great experience. "Although it was a blowout on the score board, and I can not speak for everyone, but it was one of the most rewarding experiences I have ever had," Jake Slager, sophomore defensive back said.
Sophomore fullback Ben McCullough was also named the games most valuable player for his efforts on the day. "We felt good about the game overall. It was neat to help another country develop the sport," McCullough said. "I just played hard and was rewarded for playing the game I love."
"We had to represent Bluffton not only as gentlemen but as football players," junior defensive lineman Rashid Morton said. "It was a great teaching experience that will carry over into the regular season."
As the final horn went off, Bluffton was honored by the playing of the National Anthem. "The feeling of pride I felt was greater than ever before," Slager said. Following the game both teams came together and exchanged gifts and teams shared stories at a postgame cookout.
Bluffton took advantage of the trip to build great team camaraderie. The players may have been familiar with one another but became that much closer over the 15 day trip. "Anytime you can spend quality time together as a team the chemistry between everyone grows stronger," Brooks said.
"It was a wonderful time and great bonding experience outside of school and football," Morton said. "This experience increased our unity and should make us a stronger team."
Bluffton University students have to fulfill a graduation requirement of a cross cultural experience. Each of the men participated in a class during the school year to prepare them for their tour of Italy. "The trip was excellent and I got the chance to meet a lot of new people," freshman linebacker Sam McCullough said. "I had to learn to adapt and it was a good thing we took a class during spring semester that prepared us for the trip
The last days of the tour were spent in Rome and the city lived up to its expectations. "We spent the last three days in Rome and it was great," Brooks said. "It was a pleasure seeing the Vatican and Sistine Chapel."
"The trip was one of the greatest experiences I've ever had." Slager said. "It was awesome to see the various sights that are so influential and hold deep meaning to the history of humanity."