When Jeff Thomas was a captain for the Redlands University football team, he was selected to a U.S. squad of NCAA Division III standouts to play in the 2002 Aztec Bowl in Mexico.
“It wasn’t just a game,” Thomas said about the event sponsored by Global Football. “And I always told myself if I ever became a head coach, and the opportunity to play somewhere presented itself, we would do it.”
That opportunity for the University of Puget Sound Loggers is now.
Thomas, co-offensive coordinators Taylor Chapatte and Rob Clements, athletic trainer Craig Bennett and 25 UPS players left Monday for a nine-day cultural tour of China, highlighted by a game against the Shanghai Titans, the reigning American Football League of China champions.
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“They are beyond pumped up,” Thomas said. “We had a meeting with an international head from our school, and I worried they would not understand all the cultural stuff in China. But they all asked great questions, and had a great understanding of what to expect.”
UPS will play the Titans in a game May 21, two days before the teams return to Washington. Thomas said many of the players will start on both offense and defense.
And the team will have plenty of time to tour the country, visiting landmarks such as Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, the Great Wall and the Ming Tombs on the Sacred Way.
They will also go on a river cruise, watch a Kung Fu show and participate in a Taiji lesson.
The Loggers will put on two youth clinics — one in conjunction with NFL China, and the other with the Titans themselves.
Since 1996, Global Football has organized football-based trips for more than 350 high schools and universities to 28 different countries.
Thomas said he met with Global Football officials a year ago about the possibility of taking his team to a foreign country. The subject of China came up, and since UPS has well-established, year-long study abroad programs for its students along the Pacific Rim, Thomas figured that would be a great place for his football squad to debut.
Each player was responsible to pay $3,000 out of his own pocket for the trip.
“So often in a player’s recruitment, we talk about … allowing our players another opportunity to have an outside-Tacoma experience,” Thomas said. “On the flip side, this is a good time to bring a little bit of an American sport (to China).”