Penn football just completed its longest road trip of the 2018 season. In 2019, the Quakers are going a bit farther.
Over spring break, Penn football will be taking a week-long trip to China. In addition to sightseeing and hosting football clinics for all ages, the trip will culminate in the 2019 Penn-China Global Ambassadors Bowl in Shanghai, where the Quakers will square off against the American Football League of China (AFLC) All-Stars.
“This trip is a perfect example of how Penn Athletics is aiming big by providing an unrivaled experience for our student-athletes,” Athletic Director Dr. M. Grace Calhoun said in a press release given to The Daily Pennsylvanian.
The trip coincides with the beginning of 2019 spring football practices, which usually last about a month and end with an intrasquad scrimmage at the beginning of April. Penn will have three practices on campus before the trip and two practices while in China, one in Beijing and the other in Shanghai.
Because a major part of the trip is spreading the game of football, those practices will double as football clinics for youths and young adults.
"It’s not just a trip for us to gain an experience, but to also give an experience to people who may not have experienced the sport yet,” senior safety and captain Sam Philippi said. “It’s really rewarding and we take pride in that and it’s a responsibility for us.”
The team’s itinerary is still being finalized, but the Quakers will be in Beijing at the beginning of the trip and Shanghai at the end. Among the sights they will see are the Great Wall of China, various 2008 Olympic venues, Old Beijing, and a Buddhist temple.
The sightseeing and cultural learning opportunities are huge selling points for the team — opportunities that the staff feels the student-athletes might not otherwise get.
“What a unique opportunity,” coach Ray Priore said. "Kids go abroad to many different places but the uniqueness of China obviously brings an excitement.”
“Sometimes we all get trapped in our own world and we get caught up in everything going around us .… when you are able to go see another part of the world like that, it opens your eyes and gives you a whole new perspective on things,” Philippi added.
To plan the trip, Penn is pairing with Global Football, a company that specializes in sending college football teams to other countries to experience different cultures and advocate for the game. The company has organized several similar trips to China in past years. Most recently they sent Drake University’s football team on a similar 10-day trip to China earlier this year.
While planning the trip is a joint venture between the company and Penn, Global Football is handling most of the logistics of the trip, including setting out the itinerary and scheduling the game.
“They basically give us the blueprint as to what the skeleton of the trip would be,” Priore said.
The idea for the trip did not come from within the program. Jim Margraff, the head coach of Johns Hopkins football, which went on a trip organized by Global Football in 2016 to Italy, approached Priore with the idea.
“[He] said that they were interested in looking for someone to be interested in going to China as a team. This probably started in that March-April timeframe,” Priore said. “And then, I really just went downstairs and had a conversation with the administration and they were interested about it and it sort of took off from there.”
This marks the first time Penn football will be making an international trip as a team, but trips of this nature are not uncommon for Ivy League teams. This past summer, both Penn men’s and women’s basketball went on trips to Europe. In 2015, Princeton football played an exhibition game during spring break in Osaka, Japan. And back in the late 1980s and 1990s, the Ivy League participated in the Epson Ivy Bowl, which pitted an all-star team of Ivy football players against a college all-star team of Japanese players.
What makes this venture different is the scale. Normally the teams that make these trips are much smaller — the basketball teams each took less than 20 players, while football will be taking over 100 student-athletes, coaches, and support staff.
Because of the size of the team, the Quakers will be unable to bring all of their support staff. But that’s where the seniors come in. While the trip will be mandatory for freshman, sophomores, and juniors, seniors will be unable to play, so the trip is optional for them. Instead, the seniors will take on an advisory role and help out where they can.
"For the clinics, all the players will fill more of a coaching role and be examples to what American football is like,” Philippi said. “A lot of the players will fill coaches' roles and staff roles as well, like filming practices, stuff like that.”
The Quakers still have plenty left to look forward to this season, but this trip will give them memories for a lifetime.
Priore said it best:
“I don’t think in their wildest dreams they thought we were going to China.”