When Missouri Military Academy head coach Mitchell Jenkins first took Fighting Colonels varsity football players Wrayvuz Jenkins, Tao Cunningham and Forrest Cunningham to a Team USA Regional training event in Kansas, he ended up playing a different role in the process than he was used to.
That's because Jenkins isn't affiliated with Team USA, so all he had to do was make sure the kids arrived at the venue on time with the proper equipment. Because he's a coach at heart, meaning the desire is their regardless, when the trio returned to compete with Team USA at a five-day national event last weekend in Arkansas, all he could do was try and watch Cunningham in action as a defensive lineman with the U15 team while Drummond and Givens competed with the U16 squad as a tight end and a strnog safety, respectively
"My wife and I took the three of them out there last time to Kansas and I'm not used to being a sports parent. My daughter is two. We spent the whole time figuring whose repetitions where next and going back and forth," Jenkins said. "It was fun, but there was also a lot of pride. It wasn't parental pride. They've all got great parents. It was more like big brother pride. It's always great to watch your kids compete. Especially on a high level."
Because of the nature of its format, what Team USA does is take the best individual players from each area and try and make them better. Players are initially chosen based on nominations made by their coaches and are then asked back based on in-camp performances.
"Tao gave a great example. He had a nemesis at camp that turned out to be about 6-feet-6 and won the MVP for the offensive line," said Jenkins "Both Cunningham and Givens have great parents and great support systems at home. One thing I love about Givens is you can try and beat that kids all you want through drills and he just gets bak up and asks for more. He is so even-keeled. That's why we're looking forward to him starting for us for another year. I think I finally saw him smile yesterday."
The reason Team USA has these training sessions is several fold and includes that these regional and national events should be leading up to the formation of the national and national select teams. Those squads will them represent the USA in January at the USA bowls in Arlington at Dallas Stadium.
"Cunningham is a little more emotional, good and bad, but we're learning to keep that in check and instead refocus his energy. Both Cunningham and Givens have a very workman-like attitude. They let their game speak for them as opposed to wanting their name in the paper or on the Team USA roster," Jenkins said. "I had to pull Tao out of something to tell him he made the team and it really didn't faze him. He just wanted to go back to hanging out with his friends."
The outside programs that will be coming into Arlington looking to upset the balance of American football include Ontario, Mexico, Team Nordic, Team Japan and Laguna Select. The Chihuahua Broncos, Team Mexico and Team Japan will be present, as well.
"Size doesn't matter. The fact these kids want to play is what matters. The good news is Tao is just a sophomore and Givens is a junior," said Jenkins. "Maybe you can''t measure work ethic, but I'll put up Cunningham and Given's work ethic with anyone's."