COLUMBIA — Alec Abeln tossed and turned in his bed during his first night at the 2012 World Football Under-19 Championships in Austin, Texas. The offensive lineman talked in his sleep, occasionally shouting into the darkness of a University of Texas dorm room.
“Especially if I’m not in my own bed, I really am a bad sleeper,” said Abeln, now a senior at Missouri who started six games in 2016.
Abeln had already fallen into a restless slumber by the time Khari Harding — his Team USA roommate — arrived to the dorm. Thinking the room was empty, Harding was frightened when he heard Abeln’s shouts.
“He thought there was a boogie man in the room,” Abeln’s mother, Julie Abeln, said with a laugh.
Harding eventually saw Abeln and shook the lineman awake. When Abeln opened his eyes, he too was startled.
“I’m just like, ‘Who the hell is this guy?'” Abeln said.
After Abeln shook off his grogginess, the roommates laughed and introduced themselves. For Abeln, it was an eventful start to an impactful two weeks with the U.S. National Team.
The summer before their senior years of high school, Abeln and Missouri teammate Eric Beisel were selected to compete for Team USA at the world championships. The two helped the U.S. win a silver medal, and they forged a lasting friendship on the trip.
“I take great honor, great pride, in everything I do,” said Beisel, a starting linebacker for the Tigers. “When I was invited to do that, it was hands down a great opportunity for me, and I wanted to jump on board.”
Former Tigers Chase Abbington and Trent Hosick — both of whom ultimately transferred from Missouri — were also on the U.S. roster.
Abeln and Abbington were already committed to Missouri by the time they were in Austin, but Beisel still had not made a college choice. The Missouri commits used the opportunity to recruit the linebacker, who held an offer from the Tigers.
Beisel said he did not let outside influences impact his decision, but it was helpful for him to see that Abeln and Abbington had similar mindsets and goals.
“Why wouldn’t I hop on board with those guys?” Beisel said.
With his bright red beard and outspoken nature, Beisel has grown into one of the most recognizable players on the Missouri team. He was clean shaven in 2012, but his competitive nature was alive and well. He was named to the all-tournament team and said the competition helped spread his name to people across the country.
Abeln, who earned the starting center spot on the American team, also had a strong showing. He was on the offensive line with Ethan Pocic, who played at LSU and is now in the NFL with the Seattle Seahawks.
“It was my first real experience going up against guys that I’d be playing against (in college),” Abeln said. “So going into my senior year of high school, from a confidence standpoint, (it) was huge for me.”
Abeln and Beisel both remember signing autographs for Topps trading card company at the tournament, and the cards can still be found on eBay. The competition was held in Toney Burger Stadium — capacity 15,000 — and the U.S. games were televised on a local Texas channel.
These were new experiences for Abeln. He remembers tinkering with his signature while signing cards for Topps, his first experience with autographs.
“It’s weird looking back,” he said. “On (Missouri) fan day now it doesn’t seem like that big of a deal, but when you’re 17 years old it’s something that you think is just the coolest.”
After winning their first two games by a combined score of 97-13, the American team faltered in the championship game. The U.S. struggled with turnovers and penalties and fell to Canada 23-17.
Though Abeln said he felt gutted after losing the final game, he remembers showing his medal to the American Samoan football team. The loss still stung, but seeing the American Samoan’s excitement reminded him how special the opportunity was.
“They were trying to trade us everything for the silver medal,” Abeln said. … “It kind of put it in a bit of perspective.”
Alec Abeln’s framed Team USA jersey hangs in the basement of his family’s house in St. Louis. The silver medal dangles from its left sleeve, and the white numbering has a noticeable dirt stain from the Texas turf.
Julie Abeln vividly remembers the U.S. team’s introduction before its opening game against American Samoa. The Americans charged onto the field carrying a U.S. flag, and she was overcome with pride and excitement. When she saw her son’s red, white and blue jersey, she felt goosebumps crawl up her arms.
Her son was representing his country, and the moment took her breath away.
Supervising editors are Brooks Holton and Pete Bland.