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January 29, 2010

Team USA focused on the fight

MORE: Notebook: Depth of team surprises players and coaches | Team USA rosters are set

Dallas Jackson is the high school sports expert for RivalsHigh.com. Send him a question or comment at DallasJ@Yahoo-Inc.com and follow him at twitter.com/rivalshigh.

Team USA head coach Chris Merritt has been getting the calls all week and has had the same answer for all who have asked.

"People keep asking if we will keep it under 60 points," he said. "I have to tell them this isn't the same situation as we had in the Junior World Championship."

Merritt was an assistant coach on the team that beat Mexico (55-0), France (78-0), and Canada (41-3) to take home the world title in July.

Now the head coach of the 45-member team that will showcase its ability at 12 p.m. E.T. Saturday on NFL Network, says while the team looks good, they are not great.

"The kids are developing as a team," he said. "We went from ugly on Monday to pretty good after practice Thursday.

"We will be ready."

Merritt has to hope the team is ready because, unlike the teams he faced at the world championships, this World team opponent is comprised mostly of kids who already have completed a year of college football.

"People need to remember this team we are playing is older," Merritt said. "Most of them have already played at the next level. It is so much faster no matter the country."

While Merritt enters the game with guarded optimism, his players feel a little more up for the challenge.

"We are ready," 6-foot-4 offensive lineman Adam Shead said. "The defense looks good. We have some great cover guys.

"And our offense is very good. We can go three wide or we can run the ball."

Despite the difference in confidence, Shead does see the same positives as his coach.

"We can come at them in waves," Merritt said. "When we take out our running back that is going to LSU (Jakhari Gore) we put in one that is going to TCU (Ethan Grant)."

According to Merritt, the game plan is simple.

"We have an amazingly talented roster," he said. "We have the skill guys to go three wide if they run man. If they run zone, we can pound the ball. It is a great spot to be in as a coach."

The main point of emphasis may be at a position that Merritt rarely gets to use at his regular coaching job at Miami (Fla.) Columbus.

"Kendall Montgomery is a player I have never had the chance to use before," Merritt said of his 6-foot-6 tight end. "He is going to be very involved in our pass game.

"He can run like a deer and catch the ball."

Quarterback Mark Myers is also excited to be handed the keys to this potentially high octane offense.

"At first I was excited just to represent my country," Myers said. "But after this week of practice this will be the most memorable experience of my life so far. We are really coming together as a team and look great."

It has been a fast week as the group has only had seven practices entering the game.

"The World team has had an extra day of practice on us," Merritt said. "We have to feel like the underdogs entering the game."

Many coaches try to play the underdog role, and convincing a team of college-bound athletes that they are not favored to win could be a tall order.

"This team is loaded with prospects," Merritt said. "But they can not afford to take anything for granted."

Shead does not think the team is taking the experience lightly.

"I came here as a learning opportunity," he said. "I think all the guys here are here to get better and we all are."

Myers agrees.

"Meeting all these guys has been really cool," he said. "But no matter the friendships we make, we are here to win the game."

Which is the attitude Merritt has to be happy to hear.

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