A long-awaited step in fostering American Football talent and fandom in Europe, the NFL hosted the International Combine at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on the 12th of October and old Chrissy T got to go. (As media not as a recruit, shockingly)
The NFL reached out to recruits from every corner of the world with the UK, New Zealand, Japan, Germany, Switerzland, Austria, Italy, Nigeria, Finland, Hungary, France and Slovakia all being represented at this event.
Those who show themselves up to the NFL’s standards will be invited to the United States to train as part of the NFL’s international player pathway and look to join players such as the Arizona Cardinal’s Jack Crawford and the Buffalo Bills’ Christian Wade.
The combine seemed to favour the linemen as a majority of the hopefuls play in the trenches while featuring, 5 tight ends, 4 running backs and 3 receivers, linebackers and defensive backs.
The slate of names from the UK featured players from teams familiar to those who watch Gameday Live! and follow Britball:
Running Back Samson Alabi of the London Blitz, Linebacker Emmanuel Falola and RB Andy Owusu of the Kent Exiles, D-Lineman Arthur Mbahin of the Tamworth Pheonix plus 2 O-Linemen from the London Warriors, Connor Bolton and Lawrence Cornwall-Baptiste.
And non-senior Britball players, Jacob Smilie and Joshua Addams both former rugby players who competed for the Swinton Lions and London Irish respectively. Along with Swansea University Tight End, Daniel Marshall.
The stadium was quiet and empty almost akin to being at a Chargers home game, with the screens proudly touting the international combine logo, the recruits were just beginning the most classic of combine activities, the 40-yard dash.
I wish that I could sit here and rattle off stats for the competitors, but much to my surprise they weren’t displayed on the screens adorning the stadium, so I could only go by what I saw and compare it to my frame of reference on speed. Emmanuel Falola impressed me, his pace blew me away and Adedayo Odeleye a UK competitor who currently plays for the Berlin Thunder slipping on his first attempt at a 40.
These bursts of energy down the field were juxtaposed by the sheer amount of preparation that went into the stretching by all those ready to partake in the sprint. Due to the sheer amount of linemen participating the running backs looked superhuman in their ability to garner speed.
Next came the long jump, which despite being great just seeing linemen gracefully float through the air was hampered by it being on the other sideline to where I was located so I couldn’t see who was who whether or not they were impressed with their performance, though light spattering of applause was given to those who cleared the jump and sticking the landing.
Though my main focus was looking at how the contestants did, I couldn’t help but notice that I was next to the ESPN reporters as they interviewed Brett Gosper, the NFL’s Head of UK and Europe, who when asked about those trying out said there was “no guarantee” for them.
When talking about the NFL’s recent news of narrowing down Munich, Dusseldorf and Frankfurt as destinations for the NFL to play in Germany, he broke down what the NFL needed to consider them, being the stadium capacity, infrastructure, a willing football team and local government, also Gosper added that a decision would hopefully be made around Superbowl time next year.
In a piece of news that was interesting to me when Gosper was asked on his thoughts about Sunday’s Dolphins vs Jaguars game, he did mention he was excited to see Tua vs Lawrence and with Tua not officially cleared yet hope sprang into my mind that maybe he knows something about Tua that I don’t.
As the cone drills were in action, many of the players botched their first attempt by not touching their hands to the ground during which led to one of the combine invigilators getting annoyed at the continued flubbing of this practice.
As huge athletes chugged and strew Gatorade bottles all over the place, I departed due to having outside of football commitments and I couldn’t help but wonder if my view of the combine was skewed due to the TV coverage and instant stats you get on the broadcast, or if the grandeur of being at an NFL event was tainted slightly by realising how similar it felt to Uniball combines minus the press and massive stadium.
However, what I saw was an amazing leap forward for international players to get their foot in the door of the NFL and turn a dream that years ago would have seemed unreachable into a reality, I hope the best for everyone that participated and truly hope to see them in the NFL one day. The future is bright for football.