The medal may not be gold, but the experience was.
For Phil Clay, the experience of playing for his country on the U.S. Under-19 National Team at the 2012 IFAF Under-19 World Championship was humbling.
“It’s pretty hard to describe, you’re representing your country,” Clay said about his experience and putting on the USA jersey for the first time. “And no offense to the servicemen, but you’re essentially going to war with another country for four quarters. It’s pretty humbling to say I had USA across my chest.”
Clay said the quick friendships he made with teammates was a large part of his experience.
“I think the thing I will remember most is the camaraderie that we formed,” he said. “Even just a few hours after meeting some of the guys, we had an instant bond.”
Clay’s father, Derek, knows his son’s adventure reaches even further than the previous two weeks.
“It’s one of those experiences where it opens doors to many opportunities and that’s exciting from a parent’s perspective,” Derek said. “Hopefully, he can put it to use on the field this fall and even later in life.”
Team USA, which came together just eight days before their first game, made it to the gold medal game but fell short to Canada.
Clay described the silver medal he received as being similar to an Olympic medal, but said it included the IFAF logo instead of the Olympic rings. But, he added, “just as cool.”
Clay also came home with another honor, as one of two participants selected to be part of the International Federation of American Football (IFAF) Athletes Commission.
Chosen by a vote of all participating players, he was one vote shy of a unanimous selection. And that dissenting vote was his own.
“I’ve never been one to brag on my accomplishments and my abilities, so it felt wrong to vote for myself,” Clay said.
Clay, along with Ben Langford of American Samoa, will play an active part in shaping the future of IFAF and the international game of football. They will contribute to discussions and vote on issues that establish rules and regulations, offering a player’s perspective to the executive committee.
This includes trying to bring football to the Olympics.
“One of the goals of IFAF is to help make football an Olympic sport,” Clay said. “So my role is one of an athlete’s perspective, to make decisions that would directly affect the athletes competing.”
With his time now complete for Team USA, Clay returns to Plainfield an improved player.
“He saw different techniques and styles of coaching and I think it allowed him to expand on what he can do on the field here at home,” the elder Clay said.
Clay said he enjoyed his experience but his high school team was never far from his thoughts and he will now focus on his final season at Plainfield High School.
“That was one thing I couldn’t stop thinking about, how to bring this intensity back to Plainfield,” Clay said. “That’s what I’m looking forward to most, being able to play with my teammates that I’ve grown up playing with since pee-wee football, one last time before we go our separate ways.”
Clay has received several letters of interest and hopes to continue his football career somewhere close to home, no matter which collegiate division.
He said he’s hoping his experiences over summer will help him even further in the future.
“Hopefully, this will open some doors with IFAF or even USA Football,” Clay said. “I would like to come back to Plainfield, to be a coach someday, to be involved in my home community and involved with the team that I love so much.”