Home » London-bound: De La Salle football to play this fall in U.K. How it happened, who’s the opponent?

London-bound: De La Salle football to play this fall in U.K. How it happened, who’s the opponent?

Justin Alumbaugh was at a Nike coaches summit last year when one of his former De La Salle football players, a higher-up in the athletic giant’s marketing department, mentioned that his group was looking for a high school team to play in London.

Wait … what?

Alumbaugh’s stunned reaction quickly turned to genuine interest.

“I love traveling and obviously I am deeply rooted in education,” said Alumbaugh, an English teacher. “I believe in educational athletics. He was like, ‘You’d go to London, Coach?’ I was like, ‘I would absolutely go to London. What do we need to do?’”

What started as a casual conversation between coach and former player became a reality on Wednesday when the NFL – as part of its international schedule release – announced that De La Salle will make a trip across the pond this fall to play the NFL Academy.

The game will be held on Oct. 8 – a Tuesday – at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

“What a unique opportunity,” said Alumbaugh, whose program has made trips to Texas, Florida and Hawaii over the years. “You can’t pass something like that up. A lot of our guys haven’t even been out of state. I am sure some of our guys haven’t even been on a plane.”

The NFL Academy is an elite football developmental program for high school students based in the United Kingdom. The academy launched in 2019 but was unable to play until 2022 because of the pandemic.

Last season, NFL Academy routed a high school team from Brooklyn 35-0 and also defeated IMG Academy’s “B” team 31-14. IMG is a longtime Florida powerhouse that California Interscholastic Federation schools such as De La Salle are not allowed to play.

De La Salle worked with CIF and North Coast Section leaders to get the green light for the game overseas, which the Concord school said was only possible financially because of its partnership with Nike. According to De La Salle’s news release, Nike “is funding the entire trip as part of its commitment to help kids reach their greatest potential.”

NCS commissioner Pat Cruickshank said on Wednesday that NFL Academy passed conditions in the CIF bylaws with regards to academic eligibility, age and amateur status.

“They were very accommodating, making sure the kids who would play in the game met these requirements that we had,” Cruickshank said.

“It’s amazing how sports lends itself to really some awesome opportunities,” Cruickshank added. “Here this one comes about. I think it’s great for their kids, their community, their families. It’s going to be a great challenge for them. But who better to go play this than them? They’ve played a lot of good competition over the years, and this won’t be anything different than that.”

The itinerary is not quite set, but Alumbaugh said the trip will include visits to sights such as Big Ben and The Houses of Parliament, a charitable event with the NFL Academy and an NFL game in London on the Sunday before the Tuesday high school game.

“There is going to be an educational aspect, there is going to be a charitable aspect,” Alumbaugh said, adding that he has talked about the trip with the Brooklyn coach whose team played NFL Academy last season.

“He said the only problem the kids had was the food,” Alumbaugh added, laughing. “The food was different. But that’s good for everybody.”

Though there have been whispers around De La Salle about a big football trip this fall, the school kept a tight lip publicly.

The official announcement was the next step in a process that began when Alumbaugh’s former player, Zach Klaas, a lineman in De La Salle’s Class of 2007, mentioned the idea more than a year ago at the Nike coaches summit.

“As we started getting each approval, it started gaining a bunch of momentum,” Alumbaugh said. “We had crossed most T’s and dotted most I’s and then on the Nike trip this year in Florida, the two guys that were in charge and the NFL Academy coach and myself were all in the same room for the first time. We agreed that it looked like a good fit. We talked through the process.”

From there, De La Salle athletic director Leo Lopoz ironed out the logistics to take the plans to the finish line.

Now, a DLS team that returns lightning-quick quarterback Toa Faavae and highly touted four-star edge rusher Matthew Johnson from a team that won NCS and regional championships last season will make a trip of a lifetime.

The London game will be sandwiched between a Sept. 27 visit to El Cerrito and an Oct. 18 matchup at home against San Ramon Valley.

DLS players heard about the trip in a video clip on Tuesday.