Klein, Mewhort Excited For Team USA Selection

The sport of football isn't known for being staged at the international level, but that is changing. One of the reasons is the establishment of an international junior tournament, coming to Canton during the summer, that will feature a number of incoming college football players. OSU early enrollees Storm Klein and Jack Mewhort are on that list, and they say they're ready to play.

Patriotism has always been a large part of Jim Tressel's Ohio State program. Tuesday's practice ended with the Buckeye squad taking a team photo with members of the armed forces who took in the practice session in the Woody Hayes Athletic Center.

That theme will be taken to a new level in June and July. At that time, current early-enrolled freshmen Storm Klein, a linebacker from Newark (Ohio) Licking Valley, and offensive lineman Jack Mewhort of Toledo St. John's will be taking part in the inaugural football world junior championships.

The event will be held from June 27-July 5 in Canton's Fawcett Stadium and include teams from the United States, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand and Sweden.

"It's just a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," Klein said. "I'm glad to be picked to be a part of it. We're going to go out there and play for the whole country, and I'm happy to be a part of it."

The event will have an Ohio feel to it while being staged on the grounds of the Pro Football Hall of Fame in the northeastern part of the state. The United States roster includes two other Ohioans in offensive lineman Brian Smith, a Northwestern signee, from Cuyahoga Falls Walsh Jesuit and Cleveland St. Ignatius alum Pat Hinkel, a safety who will play collegiately at Miami University.

In addition, St. Ignatius head coach Chuck Kyle is the head coach of the team with Cincinnati St. Xavier's Steve Specht signed up as the defensive coordinator.

"It will be an historic moment for American football as great athletes from around the world come to Canton to see who will be crowned junior world champion," Tressel said. "It's great that a couple of Ohio guys and Buckeyes will be able to represent their country in such a competition. I know it will be an unforgettable experience for them."

Though most don't equate the sport of football with international competition, there is some precedent. Football has grown overseas over the past few years, and the United States governing body, USA Football, was established to bring the United States into international competition.

Coached by former Texas and Arizona head man John Mackovic, Team USA's senior squad made its first appearance in the American Football World Cup in 2007 and won the gold medal by beating two-time defending champion Japan 23-20 in the championship game. Rocky Pentello, the brother of OSU defensive back Rocco Pentello, was on the United States roster as a quarterback for the event.

Players for the Canton event were chosen not through tryouts but through nomination from both high school and college coaches.

Both Mewhort and Klein expressed initial surprise upon receiving their invitation to play, but the latter had at least some familiarity with international football before that.

"I was sent a shirt while I was in high school," he said. "It was an Under Armour shirt that I just wore around. Everybody would ask me about it so I kind of did some research on it and I figured out what it was."

Soon after, Klein saw a commercial for the event on television. A week later, Tressel was asking him about wanting to play in the Under-19 tournament.

"He told me it was like the first year that they were doing it, and I thought it sounded neat and I'd like to be a part of it," he said.

The only thing that nearly got in the way, he said, was a fear of injury.

"That was what I was initially thinking, but the opportunity to go out there and play against all of these different countries was just too much," Klein said. "It was a pretty easy decision."

The United States team will be expected to win. At the 2007 World Cup, the Americans won their first-ever senior international match by a 77-0 score against South Korea.

"We're going to work hard and it's going to be probably a long three weeks, but it's going to be worth it coming out on the other end hopefully with some victories and some medals and stuff," Mewhort said.

Thirty-six of the 45 players who will be on the final Team USA roster have been chosen. Three other Big Ten players have been tabbed: two Michigan State signees in linebacker Chris Norman of Detroit Renaissance and offensive guard Micajah Reynolds of Lansing (Mich.) Sexton as well as Indiana signee Nick Zachery, a cornerback from Sheridan, Ind.

NCAA regulations allow college students to participate in international competition as long as the event is certified by the national governing body for the sport.

The tournament begins on June 27 with further action July 1 and July 4 before the championship game on the fifth day of the month. Further ticket info is available at www.jwcfootball.com.

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