Hamilton looking for a GIFT in Ireland this week

Hamilton head football coach Steve Belles has deep ties with the University of Notre Dame. Belles was the backup to quarterback Tony Rice on the 1988 national championship team.

Now, Belles gets to see his alma mater up close and personal in Dublin, Ireland, on Saturday, as the Irish will take on the Navy Midshipmen.

But first, Belles and the Huskies have to take care of some business first, before they can experience the pleasure.

Hamilton is one of 12 teams taking part in the GIFT, or Global Ireland Football Tournament on Friday in various stadiums in and around Dublin.

The team – which consists of 80 players and 17 coaches and administrators – left on two separate planes on Tuesday, heading to Dublin.

Belles said this trip was in the making for a while.

He says Patrick Steenberge -president of Global Football – approached him about two years ago and told him he was trying to get some high school and college teams together to play each other in conjunction with the Irish/Midshipmen game.

Of course Belles was interested, but the next words out of Belles’ mouth were: “how much is it going to cost each of my kids.”

Steenberge’s answer: almost $3,000 per player.

It took a lot of saving on the part of the kids, their parents and families, along with a lot of fund-raising to make the trip possible, but  it’s here and they’re gone!

“I think people are excited about it,” Belles said. “I think some people are envious as well, as you’d hope your state would cheer for us.”

“I think it’ll be a good opportunity to put the books down in the classroom and actually watch a game during class,” Belles said. “Not a bad gig.”

The 17-14 loss to Mountain Pointe last Friday night still sticks in Belles’ side, and probably will all season long.

This is a great opportunity for the kids and the staff to experience some new cultures and check out some great sights while they’re there, but make no mistake about it: Hamilton is there to play football first and foremost, and to beat the Notre Dame Knights (CA), who will be their opponent on Friday.

Belles is not taking the Knights lightly, as he knows they have more than enough talent to send the Huskies to 0-2 on the season.

“They’re just really well-disciplined,” Belles said. “We’ll have our hands full, and we’ll have our bag(s) packed and make sure we bring a lunch because it’s going to be a full day of work for us.”

It won’t be all work and no play while the team is there. They’ll go on at least three tours (after practice of course), take part in a parade and the team will also be able to watch the Notre Dame/Navy game in person, which naturally excites Belles.

“It’s a great place,” Belles said, speaking of South Bend, Ind., and Notre Dame football. “I’m very passionate about it.”

Quarterback A.J. Thigpen is one of the 80 players on this trip. Thigpen says it was a little tough raising the funds, but he and his family made sacrifices for him to go, and he’s excited to be with his  team.

Unfortunately, not everyone is happy to see the team go overseas, according to Thigpen.

“A lot of the faculty doesn’t think it’s fair that football can do all this stuff and they can’t do their club stuff,” Thigpen said. “But I think we have overall support from the school, they want us to win.”

Obviously, the climate over in Ireland is different from what we have here in Arizona, which means the traveling party had to pack some special clothing for their journey.

Cornerback Cole Luke packed his bags with the essentials.

“Cold, cold, cold [weather] clothes,” Luke said. “I know it’s like 60 and windy and rainy at the same time, so it should be pretty hectic coming from Arizona.”