By Greg Gulas
When the U.S. men’s national football team heads to Austria on Friday to take part in the eight-nation, International Federation of American Football Senior World Championships, there will be a local flavor to the 45-man roster.
Former Mount Union All-American and Springfield High School standout Luke Summers will be a member of the team, along with his college coach and a teammate.
Mount Union coach Larry Kehres will be Team USA’s offensive coordinator. Also joining Summers will be Nate Kmic, the NCAA’s all-time leading rusher who is expected to anchor the U.S. backfield.
“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for me and a really exciting time,” said Summers. “Coach [Kehres] contacted me a while back and mentioned they had a few roster openings. He asked if I would be interested and I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity.”
The championships have been held every four years since 1999 with this year’s games to be played in Graz, Innsbruck and Vienna.
Team USA defeated Japan, 23-20 in double overtime in Tokyo to win the 2007 tournament; the first time the U.S. was included in the competition.
“It is our duty now to go out and defend that title while representing our sport and country,” said Summers. “We have an excellent team and the staff has assembled a nice mix of players from every division.
“Anything less than the gold medal will be disappointing for us,” Summers added.
USA Football is the sport’s national governing body in the United States and national team participation does not affect NCAA eligibility. All players must be at least 20 years old.
The head coach of Team USA is Mel Tjeerdsma, former coach at Northwest Missouri State who won three NCAA Div. II national championships.
Having Kehres as the team’s offensive coordinator is an added plus, said Summers.
“We’re running Coach’s offense and he’s one of the very best in any division,” he said. “Nate and I might be a step up on the other team members when it comes time to learning his system, but once they get accustomed to it everyone will enjoy being a part of his signal-calling.”
Kmic rushed for 8,074 career yards and was a three-time All-American at Mount Union. His 9,651 all-purpose yards is also an NCAA record.
Summers, who is an assistant coach at Mount Union, blocked for Kmic in 43 games from 2006-08, earning All-Ohio Athletic Conference and All-American first-team honors as a senior.
Since June 28, the U.S. team has been at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Ind., for training camp.
“We have a full training schedule every day until we fly out [on Tuesday].. There are two-a-day practices, along with meetings and plenty of film study as we get to know each other,” Summers said.
“We need to be in top shape if we expect to advance to the gold medal round.”
The United States is part of Group A, with Australia, Germany and Mexico.
Austria, Canada, France and Japan will comprise Group B.
Teams will play three group games and the reults will determine who advances to the medal rounds.
The U.S. will open play Friday against Australia at 9 a.m., then plays Germany on July 10 and Mexico on July 12. All three games will be played in Innsbruck.
The bronze medal game is scheduled for July 15 with the gold medal game to be played a day later. Both medal games will be played in Vienna.