By : Oliver Strzelczyk of Europe’s Elite
After a sequence of very successful performances, the NFL Academy has arguably earned the right to proclaim itself as the pinnacle of European football. However, as we have come to understand several times in the past; playing against Americans can be a completely different story especially when facing a squad made up of top college football prospect in the US.
The NFLA has played three competitive games this season against international opponents, two against Sweden’s RIG Academy and one against the Dusseldorf Panthers. Offensive strikes made their opponent’s gameplans appear like a late – night homework completed the night before class, while the defence put up a wall in the trenches and an air – traffic – control tower in the deep third. IMG Academy – an athletic – centred boarding school in Florida – meanwhile comes in with a wealth of experience presented by its varsity team. Can a European powerhouse defeat a high – school national championship winning team? And more importantly, what does the game mean for the future of football overseas?
In the Academy’s first international game the then – London – based program flew to Germany to conquer a leading U19 squad. Despite the NFLA’s wealth of experience amongst coaches, it was presumed that a first game would be a shock for the players who had little playtime together outside of practice.
Running Back, Toshayne Boyce easily put up three touchdowns to complement Maurice Baker’s TD behind an incredible offensive line made up of athletes such as D1 prospect Daniel Akinkunmi. Rueben Depasois is one receiver that proved the Academy can play by air, catching a late throw from Sam Fenton –a Quarterback proving his worth by living up to and beyond the standards that former Academy QB (now Ottawa Gee – Gee ) George Reynolds had formed in his years in the program. 53 – 8 was the final
score in Dusseldorf, sending a wave of fright throughout Europe.
Two fixtures were held between RIG Academy and the NFLA, marking two completely different stories. Touchdowns from Baker, Tennstedt, Petrillo and Boyce stunned the Swedes in quick succession of one another, with Temple – commit Peter Clarke toping off the scoring for the England – based academy. The game had concluded at 49 – 6.
The second game, however, left the NFL program in a major deficit at the half, marking a set of 20 points that had to be made up in Sweden. Half – time speeches must have been filled with some of the greatest juice that a player or coach could share, as proven by the fast scoring when returning to the field, ultimately crafting a 41 – 26 win.
The defence had also been a problem for opponents. Led by LB and Jackson State Commit Kofi Taylor – Barrocks, they had only allowed for 40 points, contributing to an overall TD Ratio of 3.575.
The IMG – Academy also presents a very powerful squad. Despite bringing their white varsity team ( the team competing in – state more than their blue squad which focuses on the national – stage) to London, they are not to be doubted. After starting off 0 – 2, the Ascenders pulled off four straight wins, one being a 44 – 0 demolition of the Southeast Seminoles. Despite facing different competition
than the NFLA, it is interesting to note that their TD Ratio has only been 2.824 over the six games – significantly worse than that of their upcoming English rivals.
The game will be played on 11 th October , just five days before the NFLA’s matchup against Scotland’s U19 National team. Despit e having to consider the next fixture, it is evident that all focus will be placed on beating IMG. A seemingly run – first offence from Loughborough will meet the perfected defence of the greatest modern athletic high school football team in America, and possibly Europe Tuesday’s fixture favours the Americans.
The NFLA approaches the game by ‘betting’ on bragging rights and the chance to appear in NCAA recruiter’s spreadsheets. Given that they are not classed by any American HS conference, the fixture wi ll not impact the Ascenders’ conference title hopes, however it may skew overall standings and ratings.
“I’m just treating it like another opponent on the same field” – says NFLA QB Sam Fenton in the Academy’s latest Instagram post. “It’s gonna be big for us”, he admits moments later.
While it could be questioned, Fenton’s approach shows the level of maturity within the Academy locker room. Having beaten two international teams by large margins, many young players would have stood in front of a camera flexing their record in aims of intimidating their opponent
who inevitably would see the message at some point before the game. That is not the case in Loughborough though. The entire squad has understood its assignment and is prepared to take on the greatest American rival anyone could have drawn up.
The game brings great responsibility to England. Being one of the best teams in Europe leads the NFLA to bear the high expectations of the continent’s fans. A win could allow all players, specifically but not limited to the Academy, to gain interest from recruiters in the States. More importantly, it could gain the respect that players in Europe are worth. As for IMG, loosing to the NFLA would cut their four – game win streak, potentially altering their performance for the rest of the season. Whether the NFLA or IMG will emerge victorious is something that only the scoreboard can tell at the end of the fourth quarter. The only certainty is that the matchup will not be easy for either
The game will be streamed live on NFL UK’s YouTube ( https://youtu.be/sfXaO57aMts ) and will begin at 12:30 Birtish Standard Time October 11th, 2022