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NFL Academy

Earlier today NFL UK announced the creation of it’s NFL Academy, a place for young hopeful athletes to become the NFL stars of the future.

The Academy’s website is clearly aimed at more than those already playing the game. It states that Academy is for giving “outstanding athletes the chance to develop their skills and knowledge of the game”.

Academy systems are nothing new in sport this side of the pond. For example, many premiership rugby and football teams have had academy systems for years. The Northampton Saints in the Gallagher Premiership have used their academy to nurture a significant number of hopefuls into senior team players. So where is the NFL’s Academy, what will it provide and who’s eligible?

Barnet and Southgate College

The NFL Academy will be at The Barnet and Southgate College. Their sports team already run successful academies in athletics, basketball, boxing, football and tennis. Perhaps most well-known are the Tottenham Hotspur academy and Spurs Ladies academy teams. As Part of the Academy students will study two-year full-time A-level or vocational BTEC and NVQ courses.

The school has four campuses across the London Boroughs of Barnet and Enfield and caters for over 13,000 students. Whilst this is no doubt a fantastic development for the future of the NFL it’s worth noting that the college’s most recent OFSTED report was graded as requires improvement. Only the apprenticeships received a ‘Good’ grading.

Shaping The Athletes of Tomorrow

As with any sport, American football requires a certain degree of physical fitness. As such, the NFL Academy’s athletes will benefit from nutrition and diet information, along with training tips from professional coaches. In fact, the Barnet and Southgate College website is already stating that those accepted to the program will receive:

• Personalised conditioning programmes for athletes and free use of the College’s performance gym.

And

• A team of physiotherapists, with clinic sessions.

Full Immersion

The difference here will be the exposure levels. Watch a show like Netflix’s QB1 one and you’ll realise just how much work these young football players put in. Training for three hours every week day is common. A large amount of this time is spent installing playbooks and walking through the plays. With this in mind, the Academy will provide elite coaching, alongside the study courses of their choice. Described as:

• American Football training at least 3 times per week, with video analysis and play reviews before each practice.

The regular, year round training over the two year course will take advantage of top flight coaches (see below) to produce athletes that are ready to compete at the next level.

While training is obviously important it’s the video analysis that interests me most. This will be huge for the development of British players. Although many UK teams run some sort of film sessions it’s often very basic. An academy-based system should not only review good quality tape but also teach its students the correct way to review tape and the beginnings of scouting opponents

Top Level Coaching

The coaching will be overseen by Tony Allen, former NFL Director of Football for International Player Development. Tony is a name that is familiar to many in the UK having been employed by NFL International and NFL Europe for 15 years (1994-2008). Allen is also in charge of the Jacksonville Football Academy in the UK, whilst running a sports consultancy business and the London Warriors Urban American Football program in the UK.

Allen started out as a player he spent time with both the London Ravens and London Olympians, where he joined the coaching staff in 1991. He also served as Great Britain Head coach in 1995 and Team Europe for seven years in the Global Junior Championships (a tournament played annually ahead of the Super Bowl).

Also in 1995, he coached the Monarchs’ defensive line before spending three years in charge of the running backs. In his last NFL season, he saw sixteen NFLEL international players on the practice squad of NFL teams as part of the new NFL International Development Squad program.

Prohibitive Cost?

One of the major reasons why many players do not get into American football has been the perceived prohibitive cost. A basic set of Schutt Y Flex 4.0 All Purpose Youth Shoulder Pads costs £54.99 and helmets can cost up to £639.99 for the Schutt F7 VTD Helmet. There are starter sets available but these also come in at over £200, even with team discounts.

So how does the Academy system overcome this? The course will provide:

• Playing equipment inclusive of helmets, pads and training wear.

Doing so will eliminate a huge barrier to entry and allow access to a bigger cross section of the British athletes. In addition to this the chance to receive:

• Nike American Football team wear at no cost.

will also be appealing. As will access to the college’s performance gym.

Beyond The Academy

Producing players for the UK that have an understanding of the game, know how to compete at the top level and are top tier athletes is exciting for the UK but it’s not the endgame here. The NFL wants to produce experienced players that have competed against the best college players in the United States over several years, so that they are ready for NFL competition immediately. To this ends the Academy will provide:

• An opportunity to be NCAA eligible for US college acceptance.

A UK based player with two years in the Academy system is much more likely to succeed in the college system. With the eventual aim to send UK athletes to the NFL this is key to their development, especially at positions like quarterback.

Keen to promote core values of being a good citizen the college course will also include ‘a character development programme’. While the chief goal of the course may be NFL success and future stars it’s refreshing that the course aims to provide ‘all the tools to be successful in whatever pathway they take following the NFL Academy’.

To aid this process and keep the students grounded participants will be involved in ‘outreach projects in the local community and be given a pathway for apprenticeships’.

Who’s Eligible?

The NFL Academy will coach learners aged between 16 to 18 years old (on August 31st of that academic year) studying at Barnet and Southgate College. Essentially this will be an ‘A-Level’ in the NFL!

The initial intake for the course is set to be up to 80 students. Details of how to apply can be found here. Whilst there’s undeniably going to be a large number of players already involved in youth or flag football, the NFL Academy is keen to emphasise that it ‘encourages applicants from a variety of sporting backgrounds’.

To apply follow this link to the Academy page.

Now With Added Stars

NFL UK Managing Director Alistair Kirkwood said “This is an opportunity to make a real difference to the lives of many young people, regardless of their experience of our sport. It is also an opportunity for us to create a pathway for players to get into the American college system and maybe even to the NFL itself.”

To give the scheme some added pedigree a number of Academy ambassadors were announced. These include London-born two-time Super Bowl winner Osi Umenyiora and his colleague on BBC’s NFL coverage, Jason Bell.

Also confirmed are Cleveland Browns wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr; Kansas City Chiefs quarterback and NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes; Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster; NFL Hall of Fame wide receiver Jerry Rice; Philadelphia Eagles’ British-born running back Jay Ajayi; and the Carolina Panthers’ London-raised defensive end Efe Obada. Other ambassadors will be announced in the future.

For the future of the NFL in the UK the move to establish an Academy is huge. While it remains to be seen if the participants will play games against other teams it’s an exciting time to be a young NFL fan looking to follow in their idol’s footsteps. Be sure to follow @NinetynineYards to keep up to date with all the developments.

Article written by:

Johnny has been an Eagles fan since 1992 when he was in awe of Randall Cunningham. He covers the AFC North for Ninety-Nine Yards. You can follow him on Twitter @Cumbleton.

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