Hop onto a plane and travel seven hours to Dallas-Fort Worth.
That’s what the Panama Sharks did on Jan. 7 as they prepped for the International Bowl at AT&T Stadium on Jan. 11.
The Sharks played the U.S. Under-18 Select team on Friday. Both teams scrimmaged on Wednesday at Arlington Lamar High School and the Sharks impressed head coach Fernando Franco.
“It’s the first time we were invited and I was really surprised at our performance,” said Franco, who’s coached football for 30 years. “We’ve had a long road to get here.”
The Sharks have practiced as a team since November with some of their kids playing the sport for the first time.
“It’s been pretty hard, but I’ve seen great progression,” Franco said. “We have kids with one-year experience and been able to teach them to block and perfected some techniques. They’ve come around and we’re getting better.”
Franco said he likes seeing some of his more experienced players helping the others learn the game. Some players, like quarterback Adrian Roux and defensive back Victor Putaturo, have played football for 10 years.
“I’ve seen a lot of new players for the first time and they have the raw skills and talent, and they pick the game up real quick,” Putaturo said. “It makes people see a whole new level of competition and they get better experience.”
“They’ve been real helpful,” Franco added. “They’ll give them tips and correct them.”
Franco is the head coach of the national team, which won the Central American Bowl last February. He’s coached at all levels in Panama from children to college-aged.
In that time, he’s seen the growth of the sport in Panama.
“It’s a tropical culture and this helps it continue to grow,” said Franco, who quickly jumped on the challenge. “Since I took over the national team, everyone wants to be apart of the game.”
“We have a fair share of players and it needs to keep growing,” Putaturo added. “We have a lot of potential and we look forward to coming here a couple more times, and we hope to get noticed.”
Said Roux, “It’s definitely growing. A lot of people in Panama love to watch football every Sunday.”
The game vs. the U.S. is the third of four on Friday as part of select week. The national teams will play on Jan. 18.
“This will be a great experience and we’re very excited,” Franco said.
“It means a lot of rep your country,” Roux said. “It will be a tough challenge since they play a lot of football here in the states. But we’ve prepared ourselves in the past 3, 4 months and it’ll be a good battle.”
Said Putaturo, “It’s an honor to wear the Panama on the back of your jersey. It’s an amazing feeling to come here and compete.
Both players said they watch the NFL every Sunday. Roux likes the Bengals while Putaturo roots for the Eagles.