Brayden Arnold left a little bit of Watsonville in Ireland and returned from the Emerald Isle with some memorabilia and tons of memories.
The Watsonville High senior was a part of the American Football Worldwide ELITE football team that represented the red, white and blue in Ireland in a game against the country’s National U20 team on March 31.
It was only the second time AFW-ELITE, an organization that works to build football overseas by helping high school football players compete around the world, made the trip to Ireland for an international friendly.
AFW-ELITE won, 76-0, after a weeklong tour around the country with stops in Dublin, Galway and Limerick.
Arnold, a star safety for Watsonville’s first winning team since the 2009 season, made three interceptions and scored two touchdowns.
“It was fun. They’ve only been playing football for three years but you can totally tell that they have a love for the game,” said Arnold, who was voted a captain by his teammates and relayed the calls for the defense. “That’s what I took away from the game. No matter if you’ve been playing for three years or 13, the love for the game is there.”
The AFW-ELITE team was made up of players from 16 states across the U.S.
Arnold said he flew out of San Diego with a handful of teammates, picked up a few more in Philadelphia and met the rest in Ireland. The moment they stepped off the plane at their final destination, the team of 27 broke the ice.
Team chemistry, Arnold said, wasn’t a problem.
“It was a good group of guys,” he said. “Everything went smoothly even though we only practiced for a week.”
Arnold said Dublin, especially its midtown section featuring restaurants and the local university, was his favorite location on the tour.
He also fell in love with the culture, which he called “welcoming.”
“It was rainy and I ate a lot of soup and potatoes,” said Arnold, who had never left the country before the trip.
That kindness carried over to the game. Despite the lopsided result, the players on the Irish team were chipper. Arnold said he gave away Watsonville football gear to some of the Irish players, and also gifted one player his visor. In return, Arnold received some Irish football gear.
He also swapped social media accounts with some of the players who said they were happy to host some of the AFW-ELITE players anytime in the near future.
“We made another family over there,” Arnold said.
The total trip was $4,000. His friends and family pitched in to cover the costs as well as local businesses: Watsonville Coast Produce, California Giant Berry Farms, Cowboy’s Corner Café, Freedom Meat Lockers, Higher Life and Chevrolet of Watsonville.
“It was a trip that I’ll never forget,” Arnold said, “and it was all because of them.”