On a hot day in the new Tottenham stadium we had the chance to join NFL Players and pundits and witness the NFL’s newest crop of young talent in what was essentially a UK Combine.
The NFL Academy is now run every year through Barnet & Southgate College for 16 to 19 year olds who have a passion and talent for the game. The point of the day was made clear by one source early on; “what they are looking for today is pure athletes, what you may not expect is that hardly any of them will touch a ball today, except for the quarterbacks because when it comes down to it, they are the only ones who need to show ball skills at this age, everything else can be taught”.
It was Tom Cable who famously said he would rather pick up a young athlete and train him to play offensive line, and it was clear to everyone on the day that these kids were incredible athletes. It would not shock me in the least to see quite a few of them picked up after college and put into the same pathway schemes as Efe Obada and Christian Wade. This was evident when Juju Smith-Schuster decided to – despite the risk of pulling a hammy – re-run the 40 yards dash, he beat his combine time with a 4.50 run, yet we saw some of the Academy members also run a 4.50.
Jason Bell told me “I’m so excited by this Academy, wherever they are you will find me, you can see the intensity in their eyes, I am as excited as they are and all I have to do is coach!”, the investment in time by big names is incredible, there was Nate Burleson and Henry Hodgson from NFL Network, Osi Umenyiora, a number of current NFL players and a number of US coaches including Atlanta Falcons defensive coach and former Claymore Aden Durde.
So what are the down sides? This all sounds rosy so far, why wouldn’t everyone try out? There has been talk that the costs are quite prohibitive, up in the thousands, and that looks to be true, though not a direct cost for joining. The players need to attend Barnet & Southgate college, and being 16/17 most will not be able to sign up for accommodation and student loans, they will need to go into ‘homestay’ which can cost between £125 and £200 a week, this cost will presumably need to be met by family. There are also the usual costs that come with living in London – transport, food, everything is just that bit more expensive.
The excitement though is strong, I was speaking to Bengals running back Gio Bernard who had one eye on the event, “man he’s fast” as we were mid conversation about their transition to new Head Coach Zac Taylor. As one proud parent bellowed to Efe Obada as he signed an autograph; “remember his name, he’ll be playing in front of you in a few years”, these kids could well go far!
Photo Credits; NFLAcademy, @mimwalkerkhan