With a hand in developing some of the world’s most famous athletes, like Olympic gold medalist swimmer Adam Peaty and athletics icon Lord Sebastian Coe, as well as marathon legend Paula Radcliffe and former England rugby coach, Sir Clive Woodward, Loughborough University in England is now home to the first official NFL Academy, anywhere in the world.
Eager to find out what’s happening on the pitch, M&F was treated to an exclusive, inside look at this game-changing program, meeting the experts and players who are helping to change the game.
Established in 2019, the NFL Academy is now entirely based in the state-of-the-art sporting environment of Loughborough University and consists of 63 players representing 10 different countries, all aged 16-19. Successful applicants have joined the Academy from afar to pursue their individual potential with dreams of landing a spot in an American college football program or furthering their college education by joining the sport as a coach or other related role. .
The NFL Academy inaugurates a new European initiative
Jack Oaten is a strength and conditioning coach assigned to the NFL Academy program. He studied exercise science and gained his first professional experience working in elite sports at Leicester Tigers Rugby Club. Oaten then developed his skills as an athletic development coach before joining Loughborough Sport and the NFL Academy coaching staff. Now he is able to share his enthusiasm and expertise with the roster of up-and-coming talent within the UK-based scheme. “I work with very talented young men,” beams the Carolina Panthers fan. “These are guys who want to achieve this big goal of one day making it to the NFL.” The Academy is truly committed to providing its students with the opportunity to turn those dreams into reality and provides these young men with every conceivable resource needed to perform at the highest level. “I think the NFL has done a great job in establishing this initiative and it gives an opportunity to athletes around the world who might not otherwise have it,” he said.
The NFL Academy traveled to the United States in June. During this trip, 13 lucky players were sent to Texas to participate in three high school “mega camps”. They participated in drills and tested their mettle at the University of Houston, Southern Methodist University and Texas Christian University during their visit, and also had access to the Dallas Cowboys practice facility. The tour was a huge success and made a positive impression on the coaching staff in the United States.
“It was awesome,” said Calvin Thibodeaux, defensive line coach at Southern Methodist University, while filming the trip. “They were very competitive, they had good energy about themselves and they were confident in their abilities, so very happy that I hope this gate is a pipeline to get more kids out.”
After some outstanding performances during camp, a number of players received offers to join a host of Division 1 colleges across North America. On December 10, the Academy traveled to Paris, where they beat La Courneuve Flash, 51-0. There’s no doubt that Academy players are having a blast chasing their dreams, but away from the lights there’s a grind that only the strongest can survive. “You have a variety of different personalities and attitudes,” Oaten says of the students he works with. “I can’t say it enough, but the guys, as a whole, are super disciplined, incredibly driven, and they’re all very grateful to have the opportunity to be here in the first place.”
The S&C coach explains that one of the main goals of the Academy is to provide a stepping stone from high school to college/university level, so athletes can pursue a Division 1 scholarship in the United States. But, on top of that, the skills and qualifications acquired during their time at Loughborough University and their educational partner Loughborough College will put them in a position to compete for various types of careers outside of football as well. “Not only maximizing their athletic 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 football locally for the Solent Seahawks before joining the NFL Academy. Cornwall studies biology, chemistry and mathematics. Fortunately, the player says he received a personalized program that helps him balance his academic and sporting responsibilities. Along with his teammates, Cornwall wakes up every day to hit the gym before regular classes start, exemplifying the passion and dedication it takes to chase your dreams.
Mesach Arthur, 16, from Manchester, is a freshman at the NFL Academy. Arthur is in the gym five days a week and trains on the football pitch four times a week, with football training sessions lasting around two and a half hours at a time. Arthur is another athlete eager to make waves. “We have talent. We come for everyone,” he laughs. In addition to studies and exercise, there is also a need for rehabilitation and recovery. Strains and other minor injuries are part of the balling lifestyle, but how do these young men keep their heads up when their classmates are partying? “At the end of the day, it’s discipline,” says Arthur. “If you want it so badly, just keep discipline.”
Rio Tyreke Brown, 17, from north London, is in his second year and says he has always been drawn to very physical sports. Brown’s application process included demonstrating his athletic abilities with tasks such as wide jumps and the 40-yard dash. “Typical combine drills,” he tells M&F.
Brown was then invited by the Academy to undertake tests and drills before eventually being accepted into a much sought-after place. He considers himself lucky to have had access to a type of training equivalent to 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 undertake speed-focused sessions, with tasks including sprints around the athletics track, as well as mobility work and practices focused on position and take-off. “So that when it comes to combining the day, we’re at the best of our abilities,” says Brown, who relishes his time at the gym. “We like to lift. These are our days! Squats, heavy bench, Romanian deadlifts, cleans, those are the days we really enjoy. NFL Academy coaches spare no effort, even providing individual meal plans for each student. “Everything is taken care of here,” says Brown.
Nutritionists design meals specific to the needs of each player. These meals are then prepared by on-site chefs and served daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Carter Proctor, who was one of the participants of 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 haven’t received any offers, but I’ve had a lot of interest from many colleges I’m in contact with. So hopefully after my games this season I will get an offer and then hopefully go to the United States. Last year alone, Carter traveled to different countries in Europe with the NFL Academy, including Germany and Sweden. News of the fire and passion burning here forces 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 here and they are slowly starting to see it,” he confirms.
The NFL Academy is currently recruiting for the next class of students. If you want a life-changing opportunity, click here to find out how to apply: Applications are open until January 31.