Playing for your country is something that is highly coveted and prized by every athlete.
Tanner Dillon and Andy Bias got that rare opportunity last weekend as the Chapmanville Regional High School football duo played for Team USA against Team Canada in the International Futures All-Star Game, which was played indoors at the University of North Dakota’s 12,283-seat Alerus Center in Grand Forks, N.D.
Both played well and helped the Americans beat the Canadians in a rather chippy 18-17 win.
Bias was named as the Team USA co-MVP as he had a total of nine tackles — all coming on special teams. He was also the long snapper for the Americans, executing four perfect snaps on punts, two on point after kicks and all good snaps from the center position.
Dillon was recruited to be the Team USA kicker but saw a lot of action at fullback during the game. He also had one catch for 12 yards and ending up scoring the winning touchdown for the Americans.
Dillon finished the game with eight carries for 61 yards and had four total tackles on defense to go along with one pass breakup and one sack. He also punted once for 47 yards.
Team USA’s coaches took notice of both player’s performances and the game was good for exposure. Bias is reportedly getting Division I looks from Akron and Ohio University of the Mid-American Conference.
The game, which pitted high school senior players from the U.S. against their senior counterparts from Canada, was sponsored by Elite Opportunities Football Scouting, which specializes in scouting and recruitment assistance for aspiring collegiate football players.
Team USA coach Graham Church said Bias made the difference in the win. Bias played on both sides of the line for the Chapmanville Tigers.
“Andy Bias was the difference in us winning or losing today,” Church said via text. “I have never saw a perfect game from a center. He was against much taller and stronger men but he used his quickness, his belief in his self and take-no-prisoners attitude to help his team succeed.”
Steurt Schweigert, another Team USA coach, praised Dillon’s play as well.
“He came to us as kicker but we needed him to be a blocking fullback to have a chance to compete,” Schweigert said. “I had no idea the kid could run as hard as he could. He is vicious, he loves to punish the defense and doesn’t fumble. He helped Coach Church out a few times adjust the defense on the field. Our coaching staff listens to players if they have proved reliable. They know what’s happening on the field better than us spectators.”
Leading by one point over the Canadians, Team USA was able to hold on to win.
“I was worried about the last drive,” Schweigert said. “All we needed was a first down. The team said the kid from West Virginia can do it. We will open the hole. They kept their word. Incredible.”
Bias said he was happy with the all-star game experience.
“It was the best game and best time I have ever had. What a weekend. My high school football career is complete. Akron and Ohio are interested in me. Wow,” Bias said.
Dillon said he was also glad he went to North Dakota to compete in the game.
“Andy had an incredible game,” Dillon said. “Usually I am one of the guys being looked at to get it done. Andy was voted game co-MVP by our teammates because of his snapping. We could not have gotten a play off with out him. The other MVP was a defensive back. He is a serious D1 prospect and any program who gets him will be blessed. It was a very rewarding week. I got to hang with my dad, play a sport I love and play it with some pretty impressive athletes.”
Dillon said it was quite an adventure and a memorable trip.
“There was a certain amount of stress coming up here, because of the unknown factor,” he said. “But once I just started concentrating on doing what got me here and listening to Coach Steurt it was one of the best times of my life. To be coached by an NFL player and to grasp what he is getting across is amazing.
“My hope is we represented our communities with distinction and honor and I would like to thank the coaches, donors and relatives who made the trip possible, and most of all, I’d like to thank my dad for encouraging me and developing the skills to succeed.”
Dillon and Bias arrived in snowy North Dakota last Thursday for practice to near zero temperatures.
“But it was toasty 70 degrees inside at the indoor stadium,” Dillon said.
Dillon said he started out practice at kicker. He made 46-of-50 PATs for Chapmanville this past season and also successfully kicked 3-of-4 field goals for the 7-4 playoff-bound Tigers. As a running back he rushed for 997 yards and scored 13 touchdowns.
“I was kicking against the other kicker from Iowa and he could kick a good 10 yards further than me,” Dillon said. “He was booting 50 to 55 yard field goals. My max was 45. I was more consistent than him but he obviously had the stronger leg.”
Dillon ended up playing linebacker and fullback after hours of practice went by and the Team USA coaches were able to assess the talent.
“There were so many good athletes. All you had to do was concentrate on your job. They took care of theirs,” he said.
Bias said practices were hard.
“I was nervous,” he said. “I came to the sideline after the first hour and couldn’t form words together to tell Greg (Dillon, Tanner’s dad) how I was doing. He just tossed water on my face, smacked me on the back and said ‘good job.’ Speaking is over rated anyway.”
Bias was a late addition to the Team USA squad.
“I was nominated by Greg because the USA team called him up and said the long snapper decided not to come,” Bias said. “The college that he was recruited to on signing day told him they didn’t want him getting hurt in an all-star game.”
Bias ended up deep snapping for both American kickers and the Canadian kicker Nico Defonte during practices.
“While a lot of players were doing position specific drills I was long snapping for our two kickers and Canada’s kicker Nico Defonte. The coaches were talking about me later in the first day. They called me over and I thought the coach was going to cut me but he said he had watched me snapping on and off and was wondering if I could do that for the shotgun offense. He said the other two centers were not consistent enough and wanted to try me out. I snapped for three straight hours.
“On the way out the door for dinner, Coach Church and Coach Stuert told me to prepare myself for snapping for offense in full contact drills the following day.”
Dillon said the first day’s worth of practices were very tough.
“I was sore,” Dillon said. “I mean, I could barely walk to the motel after practice. I went to the whirl pool and did hot and cold compresses. I had not felt like this since the playoff game. It was a series of gutcheck moments. Coach Steurt and Coach Church were great to us.”
Bias was being worked in as the Team USA center.
“Coach Steurt said, ‘You may be smallest guy here but you got this,’” Bias said. “He said, ‘You are one of the best long snappers I have seen. I don’t have time to coddle you or boost your ego. I am trying to create a team scheme and team unity in 72 hours.’ He said, ‘Now go out and do what you came here and do it with excellence and pride. You are not only playing for yourself, but you are representing America. Find something inside of you that makes you accomplish this.”
By the end of the first day’s practice, Dillon said the coaches told him what his role would most likely be.
“They told me they would let me kick in the game on my off series rotation but they needed my blocking and inside running,” he said.
When game day rolled around on Valentine’s Day there was a surprise.
And not a good one at that.
The Team USA and Team Canada uniforms had not arrived.
“My dad and I were at breakfast and the event coordinator sent a group email that the pants and socks came in but the jerseys did not. Some parents were very upset,” Dillon said. “The coach and other parents went to the local sporting goods store and bought plain white jerseys for the US and plain red for Canada. The kids decided to get makers or tape and put numbers and the team name on the jerseys. I had a guy from Arkansas do mine. He was a 6-foot-9, 340-pound lineman who ran a 5.0 40. He blocks for me and I knew I wanted to keep his friendship if I were to survive the day.”
Bias said the Canadian all-star team was huge.
“The Canadians were big,” Bias said. “They tried to intimidate us on every play and were fast. They were well coached and it showed. They came out with their flag and their anthem was playing and it was impressive. Their coach had prepared them well and it showed.”
Greg Dillon said American rules were used for the game since the game was on American soil.
And that’s a good thing too.
On the opening kickoff, Canadian kicker Defonte booted the ball out of the end zone for a touchback.
Had Canadian rules been used that would have been a single point for Canada.
“Thank God we are playing American rules,” Greg Dillon joked.
Dillon carried for 12, 2 and 15 yards on the first series, making a big hit on one of the Canadian DB’s en route to a good gainer.
After an on-field scuffle between the two teams and multiple penalty flags thrown, Team USA eventually reached the end zone as QB Rayshawn Phillips tossed a 38-yard touchdown pass to make it 6-0.
Canada later picked off a pass and scored to go up 7-6.
The Americans would have three straight turnovers.
There would be more altercations as well and a Team Canada player was ejected. The Canadians would score another touchdown and took a 14-6 lead.
Canada then went up 17-6 after another interception thrown by the Americans and a 48-yard field goal by Defonte just before halftime.
The Americans later scored a touchdown to cut the deficit to 17-12.
With five minutes to play, Team USA got the ball back as Dillon’s on-side kick was recovered by the Americans.
Team USA drove the ball to the 5-yard line and Dillon crashed into the end zone to put the Americans up for good, 18-17, with four minutes to go in the game.
Dillon later helped the Americans grind out the clock.
Facing a fourth-and-three, Team USA went for it and Dillon was able to crash through the line for five yards to move the chains.
The Americans then took three knees to end the game.
(Paul Adkins is the Sports Editor of the Logan Banner. He can be reached by email at [email protected] or on Twitter @PAdkinsBanner).