Belen Jesuit running back Pedro Garcia had heard rumors for weeks about a possible trip to Ireland.
He barely believed it even after his coach Rich Stuart broke the news to the team.
“We were hearing rumors for a while, but our first reaction when we heard Ireland was ‘what was a high school team doing going to Ireland?” senior running back Pedro Garcia said. “We were ecstatic when we found out.”
The Wolverines arrived in Ireland Monday for a week-long excursion that will culminate Friday in Belen Jesuit visits Ireland for football and culture when they open their season against Georgia’s Marist High School at approximately noon (EST).
Belen is one of six American high school football teams participating in the three-game event comprising this year’s American Football Showcase that will take place at Dublin’s 2,500-seat Donnybrook Stadium.
The third annual event will include teams from Florida and Georgia for the first time and leads up to the Aer Lingus College Football Classic between Boston College and Georgia Tech on Saturday.
Atlanta’s Westminster School plays Naples Community School first, followed by Atlanta Blessed Trinity taking on New Jersey’s St. Peter’s Prep. Belen caps the tripleheader against Marist.
The games will be streamed live online on the NFHS Network.
The experience for Belen will be much more than football.
The Wolverines arrived on Monday and spent the first couple of days this week on the West Coast of Ireland, taking in the sights. Among the highlights was a trip to the Aran Islands off the coast.
All three teams will take part in a parade for the local fans on Thursday.
In the meantime, the teams have conducted practices attended by several of the local football clubs in the area in an effort to promote the sport.
“A lot of people that have football clubs over there are going to come watch us practice,” Stuart said. “They’re excited about football over there and want to learn about the game.”
By Thursday, Belen will narrow its focus to the game itself and a Marist opponent with a rich tradition.
Marist is an eight-time state champion that last won in 2008 and has squared off against Florida teams the past two seasons in the Battle of the Borders in Georgia.
Stuart has led the Wolverines to the playoffs in 15 of the past 17 seasons, and last season surpassed the Miami-Dade County all-time wins record. Stuart has a career record of 216-139. His counterpart in this game, Alan Chadwick, has compiled an impressive 333-60 record.
“We know Belen Jesuit have an excellent program, with a rich tradition of excellence,” Chadwick said. “We also recognize them as a well-coached, disciplined, and tenacious football team and we expect a tremendous challenge for our team. I think the game offers the fans and supporters of both teams an interesting matchup of two very similar programs.”
Belen is coming off a district championship season, and remains a favorite to repeat in 15-8A this coming year.
“We know we still have to go play a tough team in Marist,” Garcia said. “They run a triple option offense and they’re a solid football team.”
Belen won’t head back immediately after the game.
The Wolverines will attend mass on Sunday and then participate in a demonstration of traditional Irish sports before flying home early Monday morning.
“The players are excited and even us as coaches, we can’t wait,” Stuart said. “We never thought we’d be a part of something like this.”