With the development of some of the world's most celebrated athletes, such as Olympic gold medalist Adam Peaty and athletics icon Lord Sebastian Coe, along with marathon legend Paula Radcliffe and former England rugby coach Sir Clive Woodward, Loughborough University in England is now closed Home to the first official NFL Academy, anywhere in the world.
Eager to find out what's happening on the ground, M&F got an exclusive look at this groundbreaking program and met the experts and players helping to change the game.
Established in 2019, the NFL Academy is now based entirely within the state-of-the-art sports environment of Loughborough University and is made up of 63 players from 10 different countries aged between 16 and 19. Successful applicants from near and far have joined the academy to fulfill their individual potential and dream of earning a place in a US college football program or furthering their academic studies by turning to the sport as a coach or in another join related role.
The NFL Academy is launching a new European initiative
Jack Oaten is a strength and conditioning coach affiliated with the NFL Academy Program. He studied movement science and gained his first professional experience in top-class sport at Leicester Tigers Rugby Club. Oaten further developed his skills as an athletic development coach before joining Loughborough Sport and the NFL Academy coaching staff. w he is able to share his enthusiasm and expertise with the roster of emerging talent within the UK-based programme. “I work with some very talented young men,” beams the Carolina Panthers supporter. "These are people who want to achieve the big goal of getting into the NFL one day." The Academy is serious about giving its students the opportunity to make those dreams a reality and offers these young men every resource they can required to work at the highest level. "I think the NFL has done a great job in establishing this initiative, and it's giving athletes around the world a chance that might not have gotten otherwise," he says.
NFL Academy traveled to the United States in June. During that trip, 13 lucky players were sent to Texas to attend three high school "mega camps." They took part in drills and tested their skills at the University of Houston, Southern Methodist University and Texas Christian University during their visit, in addition to gaining access to the Dallas Cowboys training facility. The tour was a great success and left a positive impression on the US coaching staff.
"It was great," said Southern Methodist University defensive line coach Calvin Thibodeaux during filming of the trip. "They were very competitive, they had good energy and were confident in their abilities so very excited that hopefully that door is a pipeline to getting more kids to come out."
After some outstanding performances during camp, some players received offers to join a variety of Division 1 colleges in rth America. On December 10, the Academy traveled to Paris where they defeated La Courneuve Flash 51-0. There's no doubt that Academy players are having the time of their lives and following their dreams, but Away from the Lights is a grind only the strong can survive. "They have a lot of different personalities and attitudes," Oaten says of the students he works with. "I can't say this enough, but overall the guys are super disciplined, incredibly motivated and they're all very grateful for the opportunity to be here in the first place."
The S&C coach explains that one of the Academy's main goals is to provide a stepping stone from high school through college/university for athletes to pursue a Division 1 scholarship in the USA. In addition, the skills and qualifications acquired during their time at Loughborough University and its educational partner Loughborough College will also equip them for various types of careers outside of football. "t only maximizing their sporting potential, but also their human potential," says Oaten.
“We have talent. We come for everyone.”
Fletcher Cornwall is 17 years old and hails from Southampton, England. He played local football for the Solent Seahawks before joining the NFL Academy. Cornwall studies biology, chemistry and mathematics. The player gratefully says he has received a personalized program to help him balance his academic and sporting responsibilities. Along with his teammates, Cornwall wakes up each day to hit the gym before regular classes begin, exemplifying the passion and dedication it takes to achieve your dreams.
Mesach Arthur, 16, of Manchester, is a freshman at the NFL Academy. Arthur is in the gym five days a week and trains on the soccer field four times a week, with soccer practice sessions lasting around two and a half hours each. Arthur is another athlete looking to make waves. “We have talent. We come for everyone,” he laughs. Along with study and training, there is also a need for rehab and recovery. Sprains and other minor injuries are part of the ball life, but how do these young men keep their heads level when fellow students celebrate? "At the end of the day, it's discipline," says Arthur. "If you want it that bad, just keep discipline."
Rio Tyreke Brown, 17, from rth London, is a sophomore and says he has always been drawn to very physical sports. Brown's application process included demonstrating his athletic ability with tasks such as long jumps and the 40-yard dash. "Typical combine harvesters," he says to M&F.
Brown was then asked by the academy to conduct tests and drills before finally being accepted into a highly coveted spot. He considers himself fortunate to have access to a type of education that rivals that offered by the best high schools and colleges in the United States. The player says that gym work is divided into sections and can usually include an upper body day and a lower body day. Brown and his teammates also run speed-focused sessions, with tasks like sprints on the track and mobility work and drills focused on posture and take-off. “So we can get the most out of our strength on combine day,” says Brown, who enjoys his time in the gym. “We love lifting. These are our days! The squats, the heavy bench, the Romanian deadlift, the clean, those are the days we really enjoy.” NFL Academy coaches leave no stone unturned, even creating individual meal plans for each student. "Everything is taken care of here," says Braun.
Nutritionists design meals specifically tailored to each player's needs. These meals are then prepared by on-site chefs and served every day for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Carter Proctor, who was a competitor on the Texas tour, is a defensive end and comes to the academy via Leeds. With his size and agility, Carter has serious potential. "I did well," says M&F of his American adventure. “I didn't get any offers, but I got quite a lot of interest from a lot of the universities I'm in contact with. So hopefully after my games this season I'll get an offer and then hopefully go to the US.” In the past year alone, Carter has been to various countries in Europe with the NFL Academy, including Germany and Sweden. News of the fire and passion that burns here compels the established guard to take notice. "Especially last year when we went to America it was definitely an eye opener for them. We have a lot of talent over here and they're starting to see it," he confirms.
The NFL Academy is now recruiting for the next intake of students. If you are interested in a life-changing opportunity, click here to find out how to apply: Applications are open until January 31st.