Over spring break, Penn football flew across the world to visit China. It was, in many ways, a once in a lifetime opportunity.
The team arrived in Beijing on Sunday afternoon after departing from Philadelphia around noon on Saturday. By Monday, the Quakers had kickstarted their trip with a morning practice. The seniors on the team didn’t participate in the practices, but helped instead with coaching and equipment. After practice, the team took a trip to the Forbidden City.
Senior defensive back Austin Cooper, who has taken six years of Mandarin, served as a translator for his teammates. Though he hadn’t formally taken Chinese since his sophomore year, he had no trouble picking it back up.
“Immediately, I was kind of talking with people, like some of the locals, and handling questions for some of the guys,” Cooper said.
While they were in the Forbidden City, he helped a few of his friends communicate with some locals who were curious about why the group was there.
“When I told [the locals] we were from the University of Pennsylvania, they knew exactly what it was,” Cooper said. “Just kind of realizing [that] I’m talking to people that understand me and I understand them, and [that] the University of Pennsylvania is known internationally was really incredible.”
On Tuesday, the team embarked on one of their most taxing activities of the trip: hiking the Great Wall of China. The Quakers were bussed about two and a half hours outside of Beijing to the Wall, where they began a nine-mile trek.
“Everybody, thankfully, made it,” coach Ray Priore joked.
Most of the players recognized the visit to the Great Wall as one of the more important bonding experiences that they shared. However, they wouldn't have been able to make it through grueling hike without a little humor.
“For us big guys, like myself, it was a real struggle at times,” freshman offensive lineman Trevor Radosevich said. “Our senior offensive lineman [Tommy] Dennis, he was really there throughout the trip making everybody laugh on the Great Wall, just making funny comments about if there was ever an end to the Wall.”
On Wednesday, the team was hosted by the Penn Wharton China Center, who Priore noted has the same Benjamin Franklin statue as the one on Locust Walk.
Thursday was a travel day. The Quakers took the bullet train from Beijing to Shanghai, where the Wharton Global Forum was hosted on Friday. The seniors on the team had the opportunity to attend the forum and see President Amy Gutmann.
“It was great to experience the power of Penn [from] six or seven thousand miles away,” Priore said.
Though the Quakers had a chance to enjoy some sightseeing, the focus of the trip was football. Not only did they practice and play, but they were able to share the game with others.
Saturday morning, the Quakers hosted a camp for Chinese children during where they taught the young players new football skills. They even ran through some of their drills with the children, truly giving them the full Penn football experience. Both Cooper and senior captain Sam Philippi highlighted the camp as one of the most rewarding experiences of the trip.
“These kids knew English, they knew all about football; they had their pads on, gloves on,” Philippi said. “To be able to do drills with all these little kids and see how excited they were to meet some American football players and interact with them was probably one of the best experiences I’ve ever had, and I think our team has ever had.”
Later on Saturday, Penn played against a Chinese all-star team in the Penn-China Global Ambassadors Bowl. The all-star team was composed of mostly Chinese players, but had a few international members. Penn emerged from the contest victorious by a final score of 85-0.
Though there was obviously a language barrier, Priore saw the game as something that united the two teams.
“They speak Mandarin, we speak English, but when you get on the football field, we all talk football,” Priore said. “Tackle, pass, block, it’s all football lingo, the football language. That one thing made everybody so connected.”
The trip was the first time Penn football had the chance to go overseas as a team. For many of its members, it marked their first trip to Asia. They were able to meet a multitude of people and promote football internationally.
Traveling together for over a week also meant that the Quakers really had a chance to bond.
“I think that good teams, great teams, teams that win championships, are the teams that are really close and have those experiences with each other,” Philippi said. “They should know each other inside and out, and I think that’s something this trip really helped us with.”
Now that the Quakers have returned, spring practices will pick up. Visiting China serves as a great start to the new season.
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