Episcopal's Rushton and Daniel to play football in China

Episcopal Academy football players, Kevin Daniel, (left) and Chris Rushton, will travel to China on April 1 for a youth football tour.

Currently, their most memorable Episcopal Academy football moments were authored by others.

For Chris Rushton and Kevin Daniel, however, that is about to change.

On Saturday, the two seniors will fly to China to play in the Global Ambassadors Bowl in Shanghai on April 8 as part of Texas-based Global Football, which began in 1996 with the goal of growing the game and broadening the horizons of young people.

"In my opinion this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," said Rushton, a 6-foot, 185-pound defensive back and linebacker. "Once I saw I had a chance to do this, I took it right away."

Team "Stars and Stripes" will be made up of high school football players from around the country and will compete against a team of Chinese players from the American Football Academy at Yuanshen Stadium in the Pudong district of Shanghai.

"During the past two decades, I have been able to work with dedicated coaches and inspired student athletes as we travel, learn through experience, and compete in far-off lands," said Global Football's founder and president, Patrick Steenberge.

China is the 28th country Global Football has visited. A player's talent, Steenberge said, is less important for selection than his maturity and character as a representative of the United States.

Global Football arranges the logistics of the trips, and the players pay their own way.

In 2011, Steenberge, a native of Erie, Pa., and a former quarterback at Notre Dame in 1973, took college football players from the United States and players from Mexico to Tanzania, Africa, where both teams later summited Mount Kilimanjaro after playing the first American football game on the continent.

Longtime former Inter-Ac football coach Bill Gallagher - he coached at Penn Charter and Episcopal - hopes the trip to China will be an experience Rushton and Daniel will never forget.

For Gallagher, Steenberge's 1972 teammate at Notre Dame, this is the eighth consecutive trip as a Global Football coach. He met the parents of both players Thursday night at Chickie's and Pete's to further discuss the trip's details.

"You're not going to read about the Great Wall of China," Gallagher said Thursday night, "you're going to walk on the Great Wall of China."

Until now, Rushton, who started at Episcopal in sixth grade, said his most vivid EA football memory came when his older brother, Matt, helped the Churchmen win the 2012 league title at Haverford School.

Daniel, who went to EA as a freshman, said his memory also came during that 2012 season; a victory at Malvern.

"It was my first EA game," the 5-foot-7, 195-pound running back and linebacker said. "I was supposed to sit on the sideline, but I was late and the security guy wouldn't let me in, so I was with Chris the whole time."

The two had been friends since their CYO football days.

Matt Rushton, who went on to play at Villanova, participated in Global Football's trip to Italy as a senior. Their mother, Kristen, went to Italy and is also going to China.

"Every kid when they grow up," said Daniel, who was born in Dubai, "they have the dream of going Division I and playing for a big school like Alabama. But in its own way, this is kind of similar because only a select few people get chosen to represent the country in such an experience."

In addition to meeting new players from across the United States, the duo will also experience a new culture and even teach football clinics to Chinese athletes who are just learning the game they have loved since they were children.

Current Episcopal coach Todd Fairlie described Ruston and Daniel as quiet and reserved role players who would be great representatives of the school and the country.

Global Football, Steenberge said, also has the support of NFL China. The team's itinerary includes tours of Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, and the Great Wall of China, among others. A tour guide, Gallagher said, will be with the group at all times and even stay in the same hotel until the team returns April 9.

Rushton has yet to choose a school but would like to study business like his brother, Matt.

Daniel is heading to Dickinson, where he wants to major in biochemistry. Later he hopes to become a surgeon.

His family came to the United States when he was about a year old, Daniel said. His father, Daniel Mathai, encouraged him to play football in first grade as a way to assimilate into American culture.

"He just fell in love with it," said Mathai, whose eldest son, Steve, is a Marine.

Mathai also said he had few reservations about sending his son to China and that the opportunity was too great to pass up.

"I'm very proud," Mathai said, "especially with this opportunity when he's going to China and being an ambassador of the game, and of the country. It just speaks volumes of who he is and what he is. And, I'm waiting to see how far he's going to reach [in the future]."

cartera@phillynews.com

@AceCarterINQ