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Indiana senior Casses to represent U.S. in Paris

by ERIK KORMOS on February 05, 2014 10:45 AM

Sports can provide athletes with opportunities to travel the world and immerse themselves within another culture. For Indiana High School senior Jordan Casses, football has provided the opportunity to play in one of the most famous cities in the world, Paris.

Casses, 17, will travel to France as a member of American Football Worldwide’s ELITE team on March 22. Then, on March 29, Team ELITE will play the French U19 National Football team outside of Paris.

“It’s a pretty cool way to leave the country for the first time,” Casses said. “It shows football is more than a game. It has the power to unite people and bring them together. I’m looking forward to representing the U.S. in my own special way.”

The opportunity presented itself two weeks ago. Casses, a 5-foot-8, 170-pound cornerback, was contacted by AFW head coach Jim Barnes. Barnes, a 16-year NCAA Division III head coaching veteran with more than 100 career victories, learned of Casses’ skill set via NCSA, a national recruiting website. Impressed by game tape, Barnes emailed Casses and offered a roster spot. Casses accepted and was named to the 35-man roster that features players from 20 states.

“It all happened so fast,” Casses said. “It’s going to be interesting to play with a bunch of people I’ve never even met. It’s a lot of pieces coming together at once.”

The privilege of representing his country carries a special significance for Casses. Casses’ family has a long history of service in the United States Armed Forces. Casses proudly wears his great-grandfather’s World War II dog tags around his neck. Herman Rupert served in the Pacific Theater, and another great-grandfather, Norbert Casses, served in Europe. His cousin, Jack Bryant, a sergeant in the army, was killed by an IED while escorting a supply convoy in Miqdadiyah, Iraq, in November 2004.

“I take pride in coming from a military family,” Casses said, rubbing the dog tags between his fingers. “I have so much respect for the sacrifices soldiers make. I want to represent my family and country as best as possible.”

Entering the military is a career that appeals to Casses.

“I’ve definitely thought about joining the Army before or after college, but it makes her really nervous,” Casses said, glancing at his mother Christina, seated next to him on the couch.

Between practices, the players will have an opportunity to explore France. The team will visit the Palace at Versailles and Mont Saint-Michel on the Normandy coast. However, the planned visit to the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial, located at the infamous Omaha Beach, is most appealing to Casses.

“I look forward to the Normandy and D-Day visit more than anything,” Casses said. “It defines the passion and bravery of the United States.”

The trip will mark the first time Casses has traveled abroad. Casses will receive a playbook about a week before departure, practice three or four times and scrimmage a club team from Normandy.

Off the field, Casses looks forward to soaking in French culture. Equipped with a team-provided French-English dictionary, Casses hopes to explore Paris during his 10-day stay.

“I am going to be the foreigner for a change,” Casses said. “I am going to appreciate all that France has to offer.”

Casses, who played cornerback and running back for the Indians, was a three-time letterwinner at Indiana High School. Last season, he showed great toughness by playing on a broken ankle during the early part of the season.

Though the ankle had bothered him since the summer, he figured it was normal pain from camps and practices. However, in Week 3 against Mars, Casses injured the ankle during an awkward tackle and the fracture was discovered. Forced to sit out four weeks, Casses watched from the sidelines as the Indians struggled, dropping three of four contests.

“It was difficult to see the team kind of fall apart from the sidelines. I felt helpless just standing there and watching,” Casses said.

Casses returned to help lead the Indians into the WPIAL playoffs. He sealed a 28-14 first-round upset of Ringgold with a 23-yard interception return for a touchdown with under a minute to play.

Despite playing in only six games, Casses recorded 30 tackles. Following the season, he was named a Greater Allegheny Conference honorable mention cornerback. Casses, the 2013 recipient of the Indiana Football Boosters scholarship, also runs track and serves on the executive board of the Key Club.

Casses acknowledges the experience of playing in France will be different than football on Friday nights here in the States. The opposing players will be speaking French, and the atmosphere might seem serene at times.

“It will be weird to play against players I can’t understand. But, I’m going to prepare just like I did for every other game,” Casses said.

The Paris contest will mark the first time Casses’ mother will not be in the stands to watch him play. Initially hesitant, she understands the opportunities and experiences available in France from a first-hand perspective. She celebrated her 18th birthday in Paris as part of a student-exchange program.

“I’m really glad he is being recognized for his hard work. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing for him,” Christina said. “We couldn’t let this opportunity pass by.”

Through donations, the Casses family has been able to raise enough funds for the March 22 flight from Chicago to Paris. Despite generous contributions, some costs remain. Donations can be made through the American Football Worldwide website.

“The community has been very supportive,” Christina said. “He always helped the community, and it was great how they gave back to him.”

Before embarking for Paris, Casses hopes to get to know some of his teammates. He plans on contacting them soon. Though the players hail from a variety of states, they share one common denominator: football.

“I’m going to spend 10 days with these guys. I can’t wait to meet people from all over the country,” Casses said.

This will mark the second consecutive year an American high school team has played the French U19 national team in Paris. Last year, ELITE won 19-0.

The French have a competitive team. Last summer, they lost to Austria in the 2013 European U19 championships. In 2012, the French were the European champions and finished sixth at the U19 World of American Football, held in Austin, Texas.

Many people do not think of football being played outside North America. However, football is quite popular in Europe, with more than 300 club teams on the continent. The Indianapolis Colts selected defensive end Bjorn Werner, who grew up playing football in Berlin, with the 24th pick in the 2013 NFL Draft.

“It will be cool to play against kids from another country that share a passion for football,” Casses said. “It’s one of the beauties of sports, to unite people.”

The game likely represents the end of Casses’ football career. Plagued by injuries throughout his high school career, Casses is content with closing the door on the sport.

“If it is my last game, I’m going to give all I have,” Casses said, reflecting on a career that started in peewee football at age 7.

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