A group of Wabash College football players defeated the Panamanian National Team 18-0 back in 2006. The Little Giants will return to Panama next week for a nine-day tour of the country and a game against an all-star team on Sunday.
The shrill sound of a whistle and crunching of shoulder pads hitting echoes throughout Hollett Little Giant Stadium on a sunny May morning. However, instead of the field full of Wabash football men, 31 players work out to get ready for a nine-day trip to Panama.
The event is the third trip outside the United States for the Wabash football team, and the second to Panama. The Little Giants became the first US team to play the National Team in Panama in 2006.
The impetus behind this year’s trip began in 2011 when Wabash head coach Erik Raeburn served as an assistant coach for the US National Team, sponsored by USA Football. The squad practiced at Wabash, then traveled to Austria where it won the IFAF Cup with victories over Australia, Mexico, Germany, and Canada.
“The entire trip will be exciting,” Raeburn said. “Our team gets an opportunity to practice a little bit more and spend more time together. The chance to travel and see the sights in Panama is a key part of the program. During my trip as a part of USA Football in 2011 I got a chance to see how close those players got after not even knowing one other before the camp started. In two short weeks those players became really close. They had a lot of fun. I just thought if we took our Wabash football team on a trip like that our players could enjoy those same type of experiences. We are really looking forward to it.”
Each of the players is paying for the trip.
“Each of players had to come up with $3,000, which isn’t easy when you are also paying tuition and other college costs,” Raeburn said. “This was a sacrifice for the players and their families, but I think they will find it is worth it when they arrive in Panama. Now that the guys are finished with finals and the trip is getting closer, I think everyone is getting excited.”
This will be the first trip outside of the US for 11 of the 31 players.
Former Plymouth Rockie Football standout & rising star junior Houston Hodges echoed Woods’ thoughts.
“This is going to be a great. This will be a good bonding experience for the team. I’ve never been out of the country before. I have to admit it’s been a little scary at times getting all the shots and taking medicine to get ready for the trip, but I believe it will be worth it. It’s a great chance to meet new people and learn about a different culture.”
“With fewer players you obviously have to make some adjustments,” Raeburn said. “Our practices are much shorter because the players get twice as many reps as they would during a regular fall practice. You’re limited in some of the things you would like to do offensively and defensively based on the personnel you have. We’re fortunate that three of our specialists are going, so instead of trying to teach someone to punt, kick, or snap, our experienced players are making the trip.
“But really the football piece is secondary to the trip itself. We want to make certain the players have a good experience, get a chance to sightsee, and still build some momentum heading into camp in August.”