D-III goes worldwide: The final word from Ireland

John Carroll quarterback Jarrod Kilburn finished his dispatches from Ireland earlier this week. Here’s the last word after the Blue Streaks’ 40-3 rout of St. Norbert:

The past two days have been so much fun, even more so because we won! The celebration started Friday night and carried well into Saturday morning at the GIFT 2012 tailgate at 9:30 a.m.  It was cool to have all the teams in the tournament together in one place at the same time and a member from each was honored by the GIFT 2012 committee and Notre Dame Alum Mike McCoy. Our representative was fifth-year senior captain Bob Schmitz – completely deserving of the award and very happy for him!

After the tailgate ended, we boarded the buses for Aviva Stadium to see the Emerald Isle Classic between Notre Dame and Navy at 2 p.m. Aviva was incredible – by far the most aesthetically pleasing stadium I’ve ever seen. The curvature of the stadium made it look so futuristic, and I don’t think there’s a bad seat in there. One of the end zones has a glass backing so that you can see suburban Dublin behind it. Really cool stuff – unlike any stadium in the U.S. I probably took twenty-five pictures of just the stadium because I loved it so much.

While the game was a blowout (50-10, Notre Dame), our seats made up for it – upper level, front row, 25-yard line. If I’m watching a game, I love being up high so that I can see everything develop pre-snap, so I was definitely happy.

Following the game, we walked about a half mile to Shelbourne Park at the Greyhound Race Track. I guess in Ireland instead of betting on horse races, they bet on dog races. Some of those dogs were so fast and just flew around the track. I found myself wondering how my dog Vader, who gallops around my yard like a horse, would do in a race here. The whole thing was interesting, but definitely a little bizarre. At around 8, we bused back to our hotels for some Dominos, a team meeting, and an early bed since our day Sunday would start early and be full of action.

Sunday started with a 9:30 a.m. mass at the Newman University Church with the team, our administration, alums, and parents. At 10:30, we all walked to brunch at the nearby National Concert Hall. Some of the alums there donated a substantial amount of money to fund our trip so it was great to be able to meet them and thank them for everything that they did for us. After brunch, we had a free hour so we all split up and walked around downtown Dublin to do some shopping for our families. It was pretty much the first time we were able to go off our own the whole trip, which was definitely nice.

At 1, we bused to Croke Park for the GAA Football Semi Finals between Maigh Eo and Ath Cliath, or Dublin. Gaelic football is like soccer on steroids, with some football elements sprinkled in. You can advance the ball by kicking it to teammates, but you can also scoop it with your hands and carry it like in football. Scoring is way different than anything I’d seen before – its three points if you kick or throw it in to a smaller soccer net and one point if you kick it through smaller uprights. Each half was thirty-five minutes with additional time added to the end of each for any injuries that took away from the flow of the game. From what we gathered in the pubs pre-game, Maigh Eo were heavy favorites since they “throttled” Dublin earlier in the season in league play, but from all indications it was going to be a pretty good game. The Irish couldn’t believe we had tickets as they were pretty hard to come by due to the scale of the game.

After some exploring of the surrounding areas and purchasing the colors of The Boys in Blue (Dublin), we finally found our way to our seats. The atmosphere was unlike anything I’d ever seen in my entire life. 81,500-plus, mostly in baby blue and navy, were jammed into their seats and losing their minds. Rooting for a team there isn’t like it is here – there are no fair-weather fans in this sport. If you’re from Maigh Eo, you bleed red and green and if you’re from Dublin, you bleed baby blue and navy. The only way I can put the atmosphere in a way for anyone to understand without being there is like if Michigan and Ohio State played in the national championship game in Chicago – two teams that can’t stand each other in a somewhat neutral site. At half the game was a blowout with Maigh Eo winning by seven, but in the second half Dublin came out flying and went on a roll before losing by two in stoppage time. It was unbelievable to be in the stands with the fans that live and die with their teams and feel their emotion. I certainly won’t forget it anytime soon and it may actually end up tainting my experiences at any other pro sporting event, since it won’t come close to matching that passion and emotion I felt here.

Continuing the trend of the day, after the game we were dropped off in front of Trinity College in downtown Dublin and given two hours to do whatever we wanted for dinner. This was fun, but a little exhausting toward the end after the excitement and festivities surrounding the game. When we returned to City West, we had a brief team meeting to go over the next day’s travel itinerary and then were set free for the night to pack. I think I speak for everyone when I say that I reluctantly packed — I had no desire to get back to the real world of tests and papers. The rest of the night was spent hanging out in various hotel rooms with the other guys on the team and laying low before our long day of travel the next day back to Cleveland.

As the trip finally concluded and we arrived home safely, there are so many people that need to be thanked. Obviously, the school and alums need to be thanked for allowing us to go on the trip by backing us financially. Every euro I spent was my own as anyone picked for the dress list had flights, meals, and hotels paid for, and for that I am truly thankful. The coaches need to be thanked for everything they did getting us prepared to play the game and for making sure that we were safe and accounted for everywhere we went. The entire country of Ireland and all of Irish need to be thanked for their hospitality and kindness. Everyone we met, from our tour guide Gerry to our bus driver Tony, to those at Trinity and Dublin College, bent over backwards to make sure that we were comfortable and informed. I don’t think we would have got quite as warm of a welcome had we played anyone else.

However, I think the biggest “thank you” of all should go to three people – Father Niehoff, Jane Evans, and Coach [Regis] Scafe. Father Niehoff not only allowed us to miss the first week of classes to travel an entire ocean away to play a football game, but he went with us and supported us the entire way. Not too many presidents at this level would do that. Jane Evans and Coach Scafe worked harder than most people involved in this trip in terms of maximizing our experiences on and off the field there and doing everything in their power to field a team that deserved to represent John Carroll on the world stage. These three cannot be thanked enough for their outstanding efforts.

While coming back to Carroll and getting back to class was somewhat of a letdown, there are some bright spots – nine of them actually, starting next week under the lights at Don Shula Stadium against cross-town rival Baldwin Wallace. Onward on!

D-III goes worldwide: Game day!

John Carroll quarterback Jarrod Kilburn is blogging the Blue Streaks’ trip to play St. Norbert in Ireland. This is his entry covering Friday’s game:

Pittsburgh Steelers owner and U.S. ambassafor to Ireland Dan Rooney conducted the ceremonial coin toss.

Finally, game day. Breakfast was at 9:30 a.m., pushed back far enough to allow us to finally beat our jet lag. I’m finally starting to feel like I’m not sleepwalking anymore. Even though we’re in Ireland, we weren’t going to let our pregame routine be disrupted as we left breakfast and went straight to mass at 10:00, just like we would do for any other game. After mass, we split up into offensive and defensive units for meetings. We watched film on St. Norbert’s third-down defense for close to an hour, then broke up into our positions to meet with our coaches. At this point, everything was like a review before a big test that you studied so hard for – we felt confident in what to expect and what to do with our assignments.

After our position meetings, we had three hours off for lunch to get off our feet and relax. It was impossible to sleep, though. The fact that two years of waiting was down to mere hours made for an unbelievable amount of excitement. All I wanted to do was get to kick off because waiting any longer was excruciating. Finally, at 3 p.m. we had our team dinner and then started to tape the guys that needed to be taped. At 4:45 we boarded the buses for Donnybrook Stadium.

From warm-ups on everything was a blur, but I did my best to soak it all in. When we got to Donnybrook around 5:30, the high school game before us between Loyola Academy (IL) and Dallas Jesuit was still going on. I thought that it was really cool to be able to catch a little bit of that because where I’m from back home, I’m not used to that level of high school football. I think my alma mater would lose by 100 to either of those teams, no joke. As that game wound down, the specialists got ready to take the adjacent practice field for warm ups, which was another surreal moment. I remember saying to one of the other quarterbacks during our warm-up that we were doing this in Ireland and we just shook our heads and laughed incredulously. Everything about the moment was perfect – the weather, sunny and cool, the atmosphere, frenetic and by far the best I’ve ever played in at any level, and the situation. We had an unbelievable opportunity to play one of the upper echelon teams in D3 on the world’s stage to open our 2012 season.

Making the event even more special was what happened just before we took Donnybrook for the conclusion of our warm-ups. Father Niehoff, the president of John Carroll, addressed us before the game, something that had never happened in my previous two years here. He told us that he and the entire school were behind us and that he was confident in our ability to win the game. To have that type of message relayed by the president of the university before one of the biggest games in school history just added to the magnitude of everything. Further adding to the moment was Dan Rooney of the Pittsburgh Steelers and the U.S. Ambassador to Ireland talking to us right after Father Niehoff finished. Unfortunately, I was pretty far in the back and didn’t get a chance to hear what he said to us, but just the fact that someone that important took the time out of their very busy schedule to say a few words to us got me fired up. I’m sure the other guys felt the same way, too.

John Carroll saw pretty much everything go right after an early 3-0 deficit.

For a country where American football isn’t extremely popular, Ireland could have fooled me Friday night. Donnybrook was packed – even the standing room only seats behind our bench were jammed! The game itself could not have gone any better in any of our wildest dreams. After a little bit of a slow start where we had a fumble and some miscues that put us down 3-0, we reeled off 40 unanswered points to win. I can’t even begin to describe the feelings I felt during the game other than it was adrenaline in the purest form. Any time one of our guys made a big play, the emotion from it flowed from the field, to the sideline, and to the stands. It was absolutely electric. In all my years playing, I don’t think I’ve ever been a part of a more complete performance. Our offense fired on every cylinder possible and our defense was lights-out. There’s no better feeling than being in the fourth quarter of a game that’s wrapped up completely and being able to stand back and enjoy every second of it, and this one was extremely special in that aspect thanks to the Irish fans. The end of the game was filled with chants of “Let’s go JC!,’ among other less printable ones, cries for a wristband or a red hat, and the formation of the Ireland chapter of the respective fan clubs for DT Ethan Hockett and LB Paul Okeyo.

After the final whistle, it was bedlam. We spilled onto the field in a white and gold and sang the alma mater in front of the stadium seats and after that the Irish fans were let loose on the field. I actually did a Lambeau-esque leap into the stands with some Irishmen after the alma mater. I didn’t plan it or anything – the moment just consumed me and I did it! The guys loved it and we took a ton of pictures together after my game in various poses and with them in my sideline cap and helmet. Once I wrestled all my equipment from them, I sprinted to where the rest of the team was to join the celebration, which was unreal. There were a million hugs, chants, and pictures among the players and with the Irish. Everything we had worked for and talked about for the past two years was over – we did it. The celebration definitely didn’t stop after we left the field and I’m sure these feelings will carry over the rest of our trip and hopefully into the rest of our season. What a win!

D-III goes worldwide: John Carroll arrives in Ireland

John Carroll at a rally at Trinity College in Dublin, IrelandMy name is Jarrod Kilburn, and I’m a junior quarterback at John Carroll University. In January 2011, it was announced that we were selected to face St. Norbert College in Dublin, Ireland as part of the Global International Football Tournament (GIFT) 2012, which also includes five high school football games featuring both U.S. and Canadian teams over the course of three days. GIFT 2012 is meant to showcase the growing game of American football in Ireland and leads up to the annual Notre Dame-Naval Academy game, with this edition being played in Dublin under the name of the Emerald Isle Classic. Our coaches and administration worked tirelessly to allow us to have this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I’m ecstatic to cover it for avid Division III football fans across the country.

Here’s Jarrod’s first entry:

The trip started with a team breakfast at 8 a.m. (eastern), double-checking the equipment bags over at Shula Stadium, and to load the buses. Luckily they were there on time and we were loaded and off to Cleveland-Hopkins International before 10. Surprisingly, for bringing almost 80 large human beings with 2 to 3 bags each, we breezed through security in under an hour. I was at our gate before 11, leaving me plenty of time to panic before we took off at 1:35 p.m. for JFK International in New York. There are few things that I hate more than flying and I can almost guarantee that I will be the most uneasy rider on flight 3582, even worse than any first-time flyers.

I never realized how close New York and Cleveland were before that flight. Hard to believe it was only a little over an hour to get there. While it was short, it was definitely an uncomfortable flight – planes that small are not meant for a college football team. Too many people in a too small space, but it still beat driving. Once we got settled, we split off and grabbed lunch and hung around the airport until we boarded out flight for Dublin at 8:30 – five and a half hours after we arrived in New York. I was beyond thrilled to see recharge stations every few feet because my laptop and iPod were not going to make the whole flight overseas without dying on me. I gotta say, Tom Petty had it right – waiting really is the hardest part. I wish we could board right now, partly out of getting the flight over with, but mostly because this whole thing will finally seem real. It’s crazy to think that I was at the presser for this game in January ’11 as a freshman with it one and a half years away and now it’s only a few days from actually happening. It’s difficult to put excitement into words at this point!

I still am having trouble believing that I’m actually in Dublin. I keep waiting for someone to say that this whole thing is a joke and that we’re in Dublin, Ohio. It really is that surreal. The flight over was not bad considering we all pretty much slept the whole way over and was extremely smooth. After passing through customs and claiming our bags, we split up into offensive and defensive buses and were taken on a tour of the area. The highlights of the tour were seeing the castles formerly under the control of the Talbots and the Taylors and hearing a little bit about their histories, as well as having lunch in Dublin and seeing the city for ourselves. Once we finished there, we bused to our hotel a few miles outside the city. The hotel is unreal – beyond big and built on a golf course. It literally is picture perfect, and that isn’t even doing it full justice. After getting checked in, though, it was back to business as we boarded our buses again to a nearby field for practice. Following that, we showered up, grabbed a great Irish dinner, and then had a quick team meeting before breaking up for the night. I have to say though; the time change was a bit bizarre, as at some point during the flight over the Atlantic we all of a sudden lost five full hours. At first, it was a non-issue since we were all so excited to finally be in Dublin, but it definitely hit us pretty hard once we left the airport. I don’t think I’ve ever been more tired in my life, to be honest, as I’ve slept maybe three out of the past thirty-two hours. By far, one of the longest but best days I’ve ever had. I can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings and continue our preparations for St. Norbert’s Friday night. Onward on!

More on the John Carroll-St. Norbert game in Dublin:

Blue Streaks | Green Knights | Kilburn’s bio | JCU in Kickoff ‘ 12 | G.I.F.T. | Broadcast | Game notes

St. Norbert senior DB Josh Vanden Heuvel’s video blog with WLUK-TV in Green Bay