There are road trips, then there's the trek the Vienna (Va.) Steelers made to prepare for their 2012 season.
Two dozen players and coaches traveled halfway across the country in August for a preseason game in the Chicago suburbs, an experience head coach Todd Casey said his players will remember forever.
Through this experience, they developed a bond that brought them closer together as a team and laid the groundwork for a championship season
"The matchups were great, and the people were fantastic," Casey said. "It showed the kids how big the youth football community really is. Good football and good football people aren't limited to state boundaries."
As president of The Chicagoland Youth Football League, Geoff Meyer had searched for two years to find an out-of-state team to take part in preseason jamborees. He contacted leagues in Iowa, Indiana, Wisconsin and other nearby states but could not make the schedules work.
Through common associates at USA Football, Meyer reached Casey's club in Virginia. And after a few emails the date was set.
"Once we connected, it seemed to come together really fast," Meyer said. "They did some fund-raising and were on a tight budget. We worked with our local Holiday Inn Express in Lake Zurich to get them a deal. People were thrilled to be a part of making this happen."
Meyer set up practices, scrimmages and a game for Vienna during the team's three day stay. He also planned downtime activities.
Along with tours of the area and local football facilities, the 16 players from suburban Washington, D.C., got a big surprise when they found out they were going to the Bears-Redskins preseason game at Soldier Field as part of the trip. As part of the USA Football game, the Chicago Bears donated tickets to youth football players to attend the game.
"That was a real thrill for the kids," Casey said. "These were seventh grade kids who for the most part had never been away from home without their parents. The whole experience brought them together tightly as a group."
The bonding experience was shared by the Chicago players as well, said Huntley Middleweight Big Ten assistant coach and league representative Jim Borring, whose son played in the game at Carmel Catholic High School. The players got to know each other, traded Facebook information and made friends from another part of the country.
It helped both sides on the field, too.
"We had a pretty solid team," Borring said. "But Vienna showed us we could get better. We had put in a new defense, and the Virginia team came out and threw the ball on us. They really prepared us for the season and what we needed to work on."
Huntley finished the regular season 9-0, and Vienna allowed just one touchdown all year in winning its league title.
Both coaches credit that game for setting the foundation to a winning season. But they also know it was about more than just a game.
"In football, we are all friendly opponents with common goals who compete against each other for one afternoon but live together the rest of the year," Meyer said. "The relationships we built from this experience go far beyond wins and losses. It's really awesome to watch players, coaches and fans come together for an experience like this."