Joe Mafara enjoys every opportunity he gets to hit someone on the football field. Sometimes that's from his linebacker position. But the Sandy senior isn't opposed to doing so as a running back just the same.

In fact, he might just prefer it.

Mafara will get the chance to do so thousands of miles away, having left Monday, June 26, to play in the Down Under Bowl in Australia. Mafara received an invitation letter through the high school to play for Oregon's all-star team in the series, which gives Australia an opportunity to check out America's version of football.

At first, Mafara thought it was for a football camp, but he was interested regardless. He wrote them back and received a huge packet of information that included a DVD about what the Down Under Bowl entails.

'After seeing the DVD, I got so excited and started training for it,' Mafara said. 'It's going to be fun.'

Mafara's first trip outside of the United States started with a 14-hour flight that has him arriving in Australia two days later because of the time change. The team, which is composed of 25 players from across Oregon, will stay at a five-star hotel in Gold Beach and will have chances to go deep-sea fishing, snorkeling and off-roading in the country.

There are parades for the players with large crowds cheering and asking for autographs of the high school players.

The team will also play some football with two games against other state-based teams from the United States and a championship game if they win both. The team will also spend some time in Hawaii before returning on July 7.

'I always wanted to leave the country and see the world,' Mafara said. 'It's better to do that and be able to play your favorite sport.'

The 5-foot-10, 200-pound Mafara saw limited carries behind Jordan Paola last season but did bust out with a 200-plus yards and three touchdowns in Sandy's win over David Douglas. He believes the bowl's scouts saw or heard about that game which garnered his invitation.

'When I see an open hole, everything blanks out,' Mafara said. 'If somebody gets in front of me, I try to run them over. Just keep my legs moving and try as hard as I can.'

With only 25 players on the roster, many players will be asked to play both sides of the ball and special teams. Mafara, who will line up as a linebacker on defense, said he hopes the trip will gain him and the school some recognition and possibly lead to a scholarship.

'My main dream is to go play football anywhere,' Mafara said. 'Our school's not that big, but we have some good talent. Hopefully this will bring some scouts to see other players as well.'

Not bad for someone that didn't start carrying the ball until eighth grade. Mafara started playing in sixth grade as a linebacker and lineman because he was admittedly 'big and round.'

A friend was his team's running back in eighth grade, but he got hurt and the coaches gave Mafara a shot at running back. He grew taller and faster and he's been running behind lineman (and over would-be tacklers) ever since.

'I like hitting people at full speed. There's just something about it,' he said. 'You stun them and knock them back and keep running. The team gets excited and the crowd freaks out. I just love that feeling.

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