NFL Academy's Tottenham Hotspur Stadium takeover a sign of things to come
By James Simpson - @JS_Football
Last Updated: 08/07/19 12:56pm
In the first ever NFL event at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, 150 teenagers took part in the final trials for the NFL Academy to be launched in September.
On Tuesday, in an event labelled the 'NFL Academy: Stadium Showcase', the best of the young trialists got their final chance to make it into the first year of the league’s newest scheme to grow American football in the UK.
What is the NFL Academy?
Officially announced in May, the NFL Academy is described on its official website as "a unique programme that gives aspiring young American football players and outstanding athletes the chance to develop their skills and knowledge of the game."
Students study courses as they would normally between the ages of 16-19, but with the Academy they will also be given elite-level coaching by people who have worked in colleges and the NFL itself.
Ultimately, the long-term goal is to create a pathway for a British participant to make it all the way to the NFL. But the character development and opportunities the young men will be given are designed "to give them all the tools to be successful in whatever pathway they take following the NFL Academy."
What happened on the launch day?
You will hear a lot from officials, NFL players, and Spurs new signings about how outstanding the facilities are at the new stadium. It is all true. Before the trialists arrived, media members were shepherded around the locker rooms (designed specifically for NFL games), the upper levels of the stadium, and onto the field.
After the media had their chance to play catch and get their ‘first touchdown in the new stadium’ videos (I am surprised it didn’t break out into seven-on-seven games), the Academy participants took to the field.
In this last stage of the trials, around 150 kids were split into eight groups. The coaches, ambassadors, and counsellors told them what was expected from them both as players and people.
The physical part of the day consisted of four events - the 40-yard dash, broad jump, vertical jump, and pro shuttle - but coaches weren’t just looking for athletes. They preached the right attitude and encouraged potential students to get to know their peers.
Atlanta Falcons coach - and Academy coaching consultant - Aden Durde said: "It’s not just about trying to be an NFL player.
"[The Academy] will create a structure in a young person's life that will make them accountable, make them self-sustaining. Whatever they go and do, hopefully they are successful."
Throughout the day, students rotated between the drills, and were 'hyped up' by a number of NFL players, including JuJu Smith-Schuster and Brits who have come through the NFL's International Pathway Program - including Efe Obada, Alex Gray, Christian Scotland-Williamson and Christian Wade.
What does the future hold?
The first year of the Academy begins in September - with only 80 students making the final ‘roster’ - and ultimately, will look to get players into the NFL. But as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Jerome Allen said, "the objective is to get them into an NCAA school in the States.
"Any Division 1 school would be amazing, any scholarship where the education is paid for, it’s great.
"If they can’t go out to a D1 school, then maybe we can get them into a University over here as some are starting to do scholarships."
Allen called the pathway to the NFL potentially a “six or seven-year project” simply because they may have a student for three years, and he may need another three or four to perform at the college level and gain enough experience and recognition to be considered for the league.
By September, we will know who has made the cut in the school's first year. From there, it may only be a matter of time before the first player makes it to the States.
We will also see the first NFL game played at the stadium on Sunday October 6, when the Chicago Bears and Oakland Raiders face off, followed by an NFC South match-up between the Carolina Panthers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday October 13.
In 2015, Spurs and the NFL signed a 10-year deal to feature a minimum of two games a year at the stadium.