Dartmouth quartet plays in Ivy League-vs.-Japan all-star football game

By BENJAMIN ROSENBERG

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 02-07-2023 8:48 PM

Jake Guidone figured he had left Dartmouth College and the Ivy League behind.

After five years with the Big Green football program, culminating in a 2021 season that saw him earn first-team all-Ivy honors as a starting left guard, Guidone transferred to Connecticut, where he started at center and helped the Huskies reach their first bowl game in seven years last fall.

But when Dartmouth director of football operations Dino Cauteruccio told him about an upcoming opportunity to play with an Ivy League all-star team in Tokyo against a Japanese all-star squad, Guidone knew he couldn’t turn it down.

“There was really no way I could pass up on it,” Guidone said. “Some of the guys I’ll be talking to for the rest of my life. The bonds we made on the trip were strong, and I’m thankful for the opportunity to meet (the players from other Ivy League teams) and be on the same side.”

The game, officially called the Japan-U.S. Dream Bowl, pitted an Ivy League delegation of 52 seniors and graduate students from all eight teams against a team comprising players from Japan’s top professional league (including nine Americans), Japanese college players and crossover sport athletes. The Ivy League squad pulled out a 24-20 victory on Jan. 22 at Japan’s National Stadium, which served as the main facility for the Summer Olympics in 2021.

Joining Guidone on the Dartmouth contingent were fellow offensive lineman Michael Flores, tight end Joe Kramer and defensive lineman Luca Di Leo.

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During the week leading up to the game, the Ivy League team visited the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo, toured a renowned Buddhist temple and rode the high-speed magnetic levitation train, which can reach up to 375 miles per hour.

“Getting to experience this new culture, this new country, with guys you’ve competed against, that added a certain element to the trip that I really liked,” Guidone said. “The highlight of the trip for me was being able to ride the new Japanese bullet train, just a crazy thing to experience firsthand.”

The Ivy League players had nearly all expenses paid for — flights, hotel rooms, even most meals — and wore dark blue jerseys and pants for the game with “Ivy League All-Star” stitched on the front. They stuck with their school-specific helmets.

Flores, who took Guidone’s starting spot at left guard in 2022 and is now in the transfer portal, was unsure if he would be able to go because classes at Dartmouth, which operates on the quarter system, would be back in session by the dates of the trip, but he said his professors understood how unique an opportunity this was and gave him their approval. Before a trip on a religious mission to Mexico City in December, Flores had never traveled outside the U.S. in his life.

“We got to do a football coaching clinic and meet with some football high schoolers in the area,” Flores said. “We had a translator right there, so I could communicate to the guys about certain techniques, and they surprised me. They’re really hard workers, and they have some good players.”

American football does not rank among Japan’s most popular sports, but the game is growing there. Japan was second to the U.S. in the International Federation of American football’s 2022 men’s tackle football rankings. Guidone, who has declared for the upcoming NFL draft, met the Japanese team captains in a pregame press conference and became friendly with the Japan all-stars’ quarterback.

The teams were evenly matched — the Ivy League had 419 yards of total offense to Japan’s 382, and the lead changed hands three times. Former Penn quarterback Ryan Glover’s 18-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter ended up being the winning score.

“We had 10 offensive linemen, so the Columbia offensive line coach (Jon McLaughlin) communicated to us before the game that we would go every other series,” Flores said. “I was lucky enough to be in on two of the series where we scored touchdowns. It was a really fun game. The Japanese players played their butts off and gave us a run for our money.”

The Dream Bowl was, in a way, a successor to the Ivy Epson Bowl, which also featured an Ivy League all-star football team facing Japanese all-stars annually from 1989 to 1996. Similar events have taken place in other sports as well, with the Big Ten sending a volleyball tour team to Japan in the summer of 2019 to play against local teams.

Guidone and Flores were hopeful that the Ivy League can continue to partake in this tradition, both for the cultural experience and to make new friends from conference rivals.

“You’re playing with your enemies now,” Guidone said. “The guys were great. It was so good to finally meet them and establish a connection with them. Branching the connections between teams, I thought it went extremely well. We were all there with the same mindset of, ‘Hey, let’s explore Japanese culture, but we also have a game to win.’ ”

Benjamin Rosenberg can be reached at brosenberg@vnews.com or 603-727-3302.

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