Ashland, Ohio, is a long way from home for Australia's senior national football team.
The Australians, however, are feeling more and more at home in the confines of Jack Miller Stadium/Martinelli Field and Ashland University every day.
Australia, which has been practicing during mornings at the stadium and staying on campus, will be one of seven countries participating in the 2015 International Federation of American Football (IFAF) World Championship (ifafworldchampionship.org) at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton, Ohio. Its first game will be July 9 at noon vs. South Korea. The gold, bronze and fifth-place games will be July 18.
To say that the Australians are impressed with what they have seen of AU in the first few days would be an understatement.
"We're very happy to be here in Ashland," said Australia head coach John Leijten. "Great facilities for us. In Australia, there's nothing like this – a weight room like this, the field turf, the meeting rooms that we have our excellent. This is a great environment for us to have our training camp. The food has been great here on campus, as well."
Said slot receiver Tyson Garnham, "The facilities are unreal. There's not that many football-based facilities in Australia. It's exciting to be at an American college, where the No. 1 thing here is football. It's still hard on the body, coming straight off a 30-hour journey in total, but it's exciting."
In two previous World Championship appearances, Australia went 0-4 in 2011 and 1-2 in 1999.
Garnham, who was Australia's all-purpose yardage leader four years ago with 366 in four games, said of playing for his country, "I want to represent the country as many times as I can. This sport's been great to me. To represent the country and play overseas is great. It gives a lot of people in Australia a goal to work towards."
Said linebacker Brad Bennett, who paced Australia in total tackles (20) and blocked a kick in the 2011 tournament, said, "Both places would have been amazing. We're here, and we're really lucky to be here.
"I've looked forward to it for the last four years. It's what I play for. I love representing Australia, putting on the green and gold. It's the ultimate in Australia."
The 2015 IFAF World Championships originally were scheduled to be played in Stockholm, Sweden, but the proper funding ultimately was unavailable.
"We've got to scramble. You've got to find stuff," Leijten said. "Luckily, there's enough facilities in the States to do it. They've organized everything great. This is better for us than in Sweden, because Sweden doesn't have all this.
"Our guys come together and they mesh really well. We have guys from all over the country, obviously. They realize that they we have to come together real quick."
All seven teams will play in the stadium beside the Pro Football Hall of Fame – an honor not lost on the Australians.
"Just to immerse ourselves in the culture of American football there and to be able to learn about the history," Bennett said, "it should be exciting."
Said Leijten, "Really, it's the same size of any other football field. The playing part of it, they're very excited to be in the World Cup again. They're just happy to be back on that level."
For more information on the Australian national team, go to www.outbackgridiron.com.
NOTES: The 2011 IFAF World Championships, played in Austria, featured former Ashland University All-American kicker-punter Gregg Berkshire, who scored 24 points (21 extra points, one field goal) and averaged 40.9 yards per punt in four games for Team USA…One of the Australian offensive linemen, Domenik Radman, is making his third World Championship appearance, having played in the first WC 16 years ago.