It was easy for Mel Tjeerdsma to say yes to coaching the U.S. men's football team at the senior world Championship once his wife, Carol, found out the tournament location.
“My wife wanted to go to Austria,'' he said. “She's been very excited about it since the day they asked.''
The retired Northwest Missouri State coach will lead the group of former college players against teams from seven other countries in games played in Graz, Vienna and Innsbruck. The Americans open against Australia on Friday morning.
They play Germany on Sunday and Mexico on Tuesday. Japan, which lost to the United States in double overtime in the title game four years ago, is on the other side of the bracket with Austria, Canada and France. Each team will play three round-robin games, with the best in each bracket advancing to the final on July 16 in Vienna. The bronze-medal game is July 15.
Tjeerdsma was never in the military, so he's excited to serve his country and work with the coaches on his staff, whom he said he's always admired.
“putting a team together is a great challenge,'' he said, “but it's a fun challenge.''
It will almost be a Bearcat reunion — five of his former players are on the roster. That's not usually the case on the U.S. team, but cornerback Diezeas Calbert and defensive lineman Tyler Roach were added after some players on the original 45-man list decided not to compete. Calbert attended Omaha Creighton Prep while Roach is from Elkhorn.
Other former Bearcats are safety Myles Burnsides of Maryville, Mo., offensive lineman Dane Wardenburg from Creston, Iowa, and tight end Mike Peterson of Atlantic, Iowa.
Former Northwestern College running back Taylor Malm also is playing, as are offensive lineman Josh Koeppel of Iowa and offensive lineman Alex Alvarez of Iowa State.
While Tjeerdsma said it was frustrating not to field his original roster, he said everyone who trained for a week at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Ind., was glad to be there.
“They are really coming together as a team in a hurry,'' he said. “That makes it a lot of fun.''
There's a wide mix of players, from Division I-AA to NAIA standouts, from just graduated to veterans of pro leagues in the United States and Europe.
Former Colorado quarterback Cody Hawkins is a team member, Tjeerdsma said. The team also has NCAA all-time leading rusher Nate Kmic of Mount Union (Ohio), who ran for more than 8,000 yards in his college career. Defenders include former Kansas State player Daniel Calvin, West Virginia's Johnny Dingle and Virginia Tech's Stephan Virgil.
“We've got a little bit of everything,'' Tjeerdsma said.
Because of that, the U.S. team will run a multiple offense. With only a couple of players at each position, Tjeerdsma said it's important to have a lot of options.
“We have to be careful we don't burn them out and get anybody injured,'' he said. “To me, those are the two biggest challenges.''
If the U.S. team can stay injury-free and avoid mistakes, Tjeerdsma said, it will have a good chance to challenge for gold again.
While that's the goal, he's also excited that his players will get a chance to experience another culture while being ambassadors for U.S. football.
“For some,'' he said, “this is going to be a trip of a lifetime.''
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