Ok to start of with, describe American Football in three words:
Competitive, Physical, Entertaining
When did you first start playing?
My background was in ice and inline hockey, and coming to University here wasn’t the opportunity to play either. I wanted another sport where I could smack people in the mouth and get away with it. I played a bit of receiver; I guess the equivalent of winger in Rugby but switched to linebacker because despite being a bit of a heffer I’m not bad at the 100m. All in all around I’ve played for 4 years, but I’ve been injured for most of it. So I think playing for 4 years and playing without a serious injury for around 2 games.
What’s the setup here at Holloway?
The setup we have at Holloway is pretty exciting. It’s a really young team in terms of the league and despite this, last year we were ranked eighth in the entire country. Coming from the Southern conference that has produced the national champs 6 out of the last 7 years, it is quite an accolade.
The team has a dedicated group of coaches that have been around the game a lot and range in experience from UK and Europe, to college ball in the states. In the past we have sent players to NFL Europe camps and had guys start for national champion sides at senior level. The league itself currently has players on the New Orleans Saints roster and in the past has been represented within the Kansas City Chiefs and Chicago Bears. So there is the potential for a committed player with a lot of talent to really go somewhere.
How often will you train and play matches?
We train three times a week, twice if we have a game. One or two contact sessions and one session of dynamic circuit training and team building exercises.
Currently every university plays 8 regular season games and more if they make the playoffs. Sunday is game day, which usually means an 8am start, 2 hours of pre game followed by 4 hours of constant collisions and big hits before passing out on the coach home.
What big matches have you got coming up?
Perfect timing for that question as we played the national champions last Sunday. Their players represent a large portion of the Great Britain squad and with 300 people reportedly attending their trials they are really the benchmark for professionalism for the sport at university level. They were unbeaten all of last season and only lost once or twice in the two years prior to that on way to 2 national championships in three years.
That being said we have a hungry group of players that are starting to really show a lot of promise. Anything can happen on Any given Sunday.
Have you had a lot of Freshers involved this year?
With the exception of the clubs first year this season has the highest proportion of freshmen starters the club has ever seen. In contrast to previous years where the team is usually 60 or 70% returning players and the rest rookies, there are only 7 players on the entire 35-man roster who are not new to the sport.
For those who want to sign up, what qualities are you looking for?
Fearlessness is imperative. Intelligence is really important and determination is a must. It really is a remarkable game to play; although it seems like a free for all there are so many small individual fights occurring at any one time. If you ever catch an NFL game, pick a player; a lineman, a running back, a linebacker or cornerback and spend five minutes tracking that man. You will see that every play is designed to utilise every single man. Whether it’s a crackdown block by a tiny cornerback on a 16 stone linebacker, or a swift sternum punch by a defensive lineman to try to plug a running lane in the line, everyone plays a part on every play. Most of the big hits usually occur off the ball, a defensive safety will turn around to pursue the ball just to be ‘lit up’ completely by a 20 stone lineman coming up to the second level of defence. This is all part of the ‘pancake’ statistic where a point is awarded for blocking a guy so hard that his back or head touches the floor before any other part of his body.
In stark contrast to this are the skill positions on offence. If you fancy yourself as a fast sprinter with good hands who loves the glory of a touchdown then there is the receiver position. If you enjoy running with the ball in hand side stepping some would-be tacklers and running right over others then the running back spot is ideal. The marshall of the entire offence is stereotypically the quarteback who is poised and able to strategically read the game and anticipate player movements before the ball is snapped. Basically if you are naturally good at sports, or you are a big dude who likes getting in peoples way, then there is a taylor made position for you.
How successful has the club been?
As I mentioned the club is in its infant stage. A top ten rank last year combined with an influx of new talent means the game at RHUL is looking promising for the future. It is remarkable in terms of the league for a university so small with no sport college feeding into the squad to get anywhere near the playoffs.
What do you think the general perception is of American Football on campus?
It’s strange to me that the sport is considered a direct rival, often an inferior one to rugby. Having played rugby all through high school the differences are dramatic. There really is no option but to hit people at full speed all the time. The padding rather than being a safety aid is mostly there to bring entertainment from the big hits without the risk of killing someone. They say that being hit full-whack in football is the equivalent to having a car hit you at thirty. When the game is played right that’s the feeling you get, last year we were close to that level. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a massive rugby league fan and adore the game, but the first time you go to smash a 6’5’’ guy head on (which is legal at ANY point in the game irrespective of whether or not he has the ball) its addictive. The instant compression of your ribcage, the dizziness and thud of a good collision before realising you have to do it all over again in thirty seconds makes you want to come back for more. I urge everyone to try it at least once.
How do you see the sport developing in the UK over the next few years?
There are a constantly increasing number of guys making it into practice squads of famous NFL teams. Make the roster and it’s a guaranteed hundred grand a year so that’s a great incentive for those lucky few good enough. That shows the increasing strength of the elite part of football in this country.
On a more domestic level, especially with regards to the University League the sport is constantly expanding. There were over 2000 people involved in University Football last year. The number of teams competing in the National University League has risen from 40 to 45+ with another 12 teams expected over the next 3 years. That represents 50% of all universities in the country. The amalgamation of the Leagues governing body with a sub-section of BUCS means that soon it is going to contribute towards a Universities’ BUCS points, which will hopefully bring even more recognition to the sport.
What will be the effects from the Saints Chargers game at Wembley last month?
NFL London is an excellent initiative for increasing the fan-base of the sport in the UK. However, it has been a combination of factors over the last few years that has led to the massive increase in students wanting to play the sport. Recruitment drives for most Universities have been increasing by an average of 30% over the last 2 years.
And lastly, who do you support?
My dad lives in New England so it’s Patriots all the way.