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NFL Academy QB George Reynolds: The 2020 Pro Bowl, working with Deshaun Watson's coach & US college hopes

"Looking back on the season it was one of the best years of my life."

George Reynolds
Image: Quarterback George Reynolds. Picture courtesy of the NFL Academy

Over 5000 miles separate the UK's NFL Academy and Stanford University, the collegiate home of Andrew Luck, yet young quarterback George Reynolds has never felt closer to following in the footsteps of his retired idol.

Reynolds, a product of the Kent Exiles, occupies one of 80 spots at the country's unique NFL programme based at Barnet and Southgate college, years of dedication to the sport finally rewarded with an unprecedented opportunity to try and bridge the gap across the Atlantic.

The Academy's inaugural year has been suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic, but that hasn't dampened an unforgettable rookie season for Reynolds, who is now in the process of reaching out to US colleges.

"It was a better experience than I could have ever imagined," Reynolds told Sky Sports. "The level of football was very high and the coaching was great. I've improved so much since I got there and I know that next year I'll be able to improve even more.

"Looking back on the season it was one of the best years of my life. I've been with some amazing teammates, we've grown a really strong bond together and we're ready to take it to the next level and play games."
Reynolds on the NFL Academy's maiden year

"It's just an amazing opportunity for all the players because us British and European players, we've never had that pathway to America and this creates a base for us where we can replicate a high school/college environment.

"I'm the first class and to be that just feels amazing because I know I can then set the grounds for the next people coming through. I can hopefully be an inspiration and a role model to quarterbacks or other players wanting to get to this academy."

Assertive in tone and appreciative of the talent around him, the leadership qualities of a play-caller shine through as Reynolds describes the relationship among his Academy teammates.

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Despite players originating from a range of backgrounds, a sense of unity has been seamless since day one.

"The team acts like a family," said Reynolds. "The way we have developed a bond together is better than any team I've been on before.

"I know that some of these team-mates I'm playing with could also go to America and play in the States.

"Everybody looks out for each other and we're all accountable for each other so if one player makes a mistake, we take it as a mistake on the team and we work to fix that as a team. The bigger picture for everybody is the NFL, that's where we all aspire to be."

The introduction of a once unforeseen initiative to unearth British NFL stars of the future warranted interest from hundreds of applicants at last year's physical and character assessment exercises.

Reynolds was one of 150 later invited to an NFL combine-style testing day at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in July 2019, where vast media attention and the presence of Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Juju Smith-Schuster would underline a momentous step for the sport in this country.

Come January 2020, Reynolds found himself as one of eight Academy players competing against American high schools in the NFL Pro Bowl skills challenges in Orlando.

The NFL Academy's Pro Bowl representatives

Player Position
George Reynolds Quarterback
Tyler Harvey-Fallows Offensive tackle
Khalid Adisa Defensive back
Kacper Jaszewski Wide receiver
Timothy Schurmann Linebacker
Thomas Jones Running back
Dimitri Madden Defensive tackle
Malachi Greenidge Wide receiver

"It was an amazing experience," said Reynolds. "That just gives you that spark and just encourages you to keep working because you want to be there at some point.

"We got to compete against American high schools which is essentially what we're competing against because we're like a high school outside of America, it allowed us to go out there and see what level we were at and where we are compared to the athletes out there.

"It was very fun, one of the best experiences of my life."

Reynolds himself finished second out of seven in the accuracy challenge as the UK's representatives introduced US college-bound prospects to their new overseas competition.

Reynolds at the Pro Bowl
Image: Reynolds impressed among American high school quarterbacks in Orlando. Picture courtesy of the NFL Academy

He explained: "When they heard that we were British or from Europe they were very shocked, and then when we went out there and competed at a high level we were very close to them if not better at some aspects.

"There were four and five star-recruits out there who I'd been speaking to and they'd signed and confirmed that they were going to some of the best colleges in America, so when we went out there and performed just as well as them it was a good confidence boost."

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A stage on which to showcase his arm also became an opportunity to pick the playoff-calibre brains of the Houston Texans' Deshaun Watson and Minnesota Vikings' Kirk Cousins.

The takeaway? Don't stop working.

"The advice was just to always keep working and have that winning mentality and that you can do what you want to do," said Reynolds. "You just have to work for it and you can't stop working.

"Every training session I'm putting 100 per cent in, competing with the other quarterbacks, making sure I'm in that first spot and that every day I'm getting better."

Reynolds speaks with Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins
Image: Reynolds receives some advice from Vikings quarterback Cousins

​​​​​​He added: "Kirk Cousins spoke to me for a while about how we train and it was good to just have that interest and know you're at that level of high schoolers where your next step is college, we're all sharing the same dream.

"I've got to work hard and make the most of everything, I've got to learn every second and that's not just in the American Football side, that's in the school side as well."

Reynolds gained an insight into Watson's work behind-the-scenes last summer as he spent time with the Texans star's private coach Quincy Avery.

"I've played quarterback as sort of a natural instinct position where I would just get out there and throw the ball, but I learned from him (Quincy) and Deshaun Watson that it was so much more," he said. "It's more a physics kind of game, how you move your body and how that can create more force in your throws.

"That experience was very useful to me."

Refined quarterback mechanics were then put to the test at the Academy as Reynolds was introduced to a bulging playbook in comparison to his time with the Exiles, along with welcomed lessons in scheming against defenses.

This accompanied a full-time transition into 11-man football, which the 18-year-old had only previously experienced while playing for Great Britain.

"Our coaches were always really tough on the details so we were learning about a defense before we knew what we were doing on offense," he recalled.

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"It made us smarter as players. Going to this Academy and having the great coaching that lets us understand how to identify defenses almost gets us ready for the next level so when we go to America where they have that experience from a young age we can catch up with that.

"Playing with a full 11-a-side three days-a-week at practice was very exciting to be honest because it just meant we were always put in more advanced schemes. At the Exiles we play from a playbook of about 10 or 12 plays whereas here we're putting in 10/12 plays every two weeks so it's quite advanced for us."

Besides throwing at least 100 passes a day in a bid to maintain his rhythm in lockdown, Reynolds is striving to put himself on the radar of US colleges by emailing his highlights reel to offensive coordinators and quarterback coaches.

Such has been his bright impression that Reynolds' tape has earned the attention of American high school football recruiting analyst Tom Lemming, who's Prep Football Report is widely regarded as the 'bible' of college football recruitment.

"It's very exciting," admitted Reynolds. "I'm trying to get myself to recruiters and to see one of the big names Tom Lemming be interested in my work and use me as part of his publication is very exciting.

"It gives me that confidence boost that I can go to America. It keeps me motivated to put the work in now, even though we're stuck at home."

Reynolds has opted against playing for the Exiles this summer, instead turning his full attention towards life at the Academy upon its return later this year.

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