John Plasencia feels more than the weight of an entire country on his shoulders.
The former Jesuit High standout feels a responsibility for maintaining the United States' chokehold on football.
As one of 45 players from across the country selected to the first USA Football Junior National Team that will play in the 2009 International Federation of American Football Junior World Championship, Plasencia is prepared to maintain his country's dominance in the sport.
"It's definitely an honor to represent your country, but there's also a lot of pressure because we feel we have to prove that football is the best here," said Plasencia, who will line up at tight end. "But more than that, it's an amazing opportunity to be able to represent the nation."
Play begins today in Canton, Ohio, with the United States facing France in a first-round game, and culminates with the championship game on July 5. Other countries participating are Canada, Germany, Japan, Mexico, Sweden and New Zealand.
In preparation for the games, players - who will be at 33 different college programs in the fall - have been involved in a training camp with high school coaches around the country. One of the coaches working with Plasencia is Frank Lenti, the Chicago Mount Carmel coach who helped develop former Bucs defensive end Simeon Rice and Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb.
"First of all, John's just an awesome young man," Lenti said. "He brings so much to our team and he's a very coachable young man. And he's not afraid to get physical. Most of the time he's got a smile on his face, but on the field, if you tick him off, he'll make you pay."
As soon as he finishes his stint with the Junior National Team, Plasencia will report to Northwestern, where he will play for the Wildcats.
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