ALL roads will lead to Aviva Stadium on Saturday for American football fans as the NCAA season kicks off with the first in a series of Aer Lingus College Football Series games as Nebraska take on Northwestern.
Thousands of people made the trip across the Atlantic for the game, with many more Irish fans set to descend on Dublin for the game which will kick off the new season and involve some of college football’s best and future stars of the game. NFL.
The sport has exploded in popularity over the years, with the NFL‘s London series attracting fans from across Europe lucky enough to catch a regular season game, but Dublin is referred to as the home of the college game in Europe and this, the first in which should be an annual season start, will cement this status.
As preparation will ramp up a bit ahead of the game in Dublin, Belfast hosted some special guests this week as the home side, Belfast Trojans hosted a night out for some Nebraska fans and former players including Randy Stella , Tyrone, Byrd, Steve Taylor, Kenny Bell, plus Ahman Green who remains the leader in NFL franchise history, Green Bay Packers.
The Botanic Inn was the venue on Tuesday as all relaxed and enjoyed an evening of football chat with visitors warmly welcomed and such events give a glimpse of the respect fans of the game have on this side of the Atlantic with Green , who plied his trade in the NFL until 2009, happy to stand up and chat with the Trojans.
“He’s very down to earth and said he’s lost a bit of rhythm, but I told him if he wants to play with the Trojans I’ll have a contract ready for him,” Hassan joked. Jaafar, a club player. treasurer, youth team coach and flag team manager of the Belfast club.
“It’s great to have him here, along with other College Hall of Fame players. It’s a sign of the respect they have for Belfast and it’s a great honor for us to welcome them.”
Saturday, more than 40 players from the Trojans will take the road to the match which is close to a sold-out sale.
It will be an opportunity to witness a high level game with some of those who are likely to embark on an NFL career.
“We’re all excited because it’s been a few years since there has been a college game in Dublin,” Hassan continued.
“Some of the stars on the pitch on Saturday will be drafted next year so it will be good to see them play in Dublin.”
Randy Stelle and I and some other Huskers had a great time with the local football team, the Trojans last night at the Guinness Time Pub. I didn’t know our wings weren’t from PROPER Chicken Wings in the USA! #properwings pic.twitter.com/96qahGI6y8
— Ahman Green NFL legend/head coach/player/host (@AhmanGreen30) August 24, 2022
With the NFL and college seasons just getting ready to begin, the Irish leagues wrapped up earlier this month with UCD beating the Dublin Rebels at the Shamrock Bowl held at Kingspan Stadium.
Membership in the league has grown tenfold over the years with three divisions including the Premier which includes the Trojans and the city rivals of Belfast (formerly Carrickfergus) Knights.
The Trojans have had a magnificent run over the past decade, winning the title four years in a row from 2012 to 2015 and then again in 2019 with the Atlantic Cup (European title) added in 13 and 15 before Covid does not strike and wreak havoc with the league. .
The club was founded in 2007 and has grown to include a flag football team and now a youth team, giving young fans of the game the opportunity to play before adulthood, while day-to-day experience of the match at the Deramore Park base was also reinforced.
“I joined in 2018 when there was an upward trajectory and in 2019 we won our last Bowl,” Hassan said.
“With Covid there has been a pause for all sports but especially in a niche sport like American football where we have to get people to spend a little more money to play and that is also a little more difficult to enter it.
“We are always trying to grow the sport and last year we made a conscious effort to build a youth team and then grow the game experience for the fans so that coming to watch was fun and enjoyable.
“We were able to offer stuff for the kids, we have a mascot, half-time entertainment and competitions and a range of entertainment, but we backed that up by winning our home games.
“Next year we want to build on this season as it hasn’t gone as well as we had hoped. We haven’t reached the playoffs for the first time in a long time but hoping we will be able to work during the pre-season, recruit new players because we always encourage new people to come and try, whether they have already practiced different sports or not at all.
“We can always find you a spot because the game is such a tactical game of chess, we need players of all sizes and athletic abilities. It’s about being able to choose a new game, learning the patterns and if you’re dedicated, you’ll go far Sometimes someone who hasn’t played a team sport can represent your country.
Hassan is the one who has represented Ireland in the past and hopes to do so again, but forming the NFL Academy in 2019 has provided an even greater gateway for young players who dream of rising to the top.
While some may think the idea of a Belfast player involved in a game like Saturday’s is a mere pipe dream, that couldn’t be further from the truth.
The NFL Academy offers student-athletes ages 16-19 the opportunity to combine their education with a life skills program and intensive sports training, under the guidance of full-time professional coaches and a Trojan Horse, Lopez Sanusi, benefited from it.
With interest in the sport in Europe more than ever, full-season games like this NFL International Series weekend can only inspire.
“With this five-year deal, Dublin can be the birthplace of international college football and it would be great for us as Ireland’s best young players have the chance to bond with college football coaches,” Hassan explained.
“When they are here, there are clinics and the opportunity to talk to players and make a good impression.
“With the Trojans, we had a player last year, Lopes Sanusi, who had enough game tape to impress the pro coaches enough to be selected for the NFL Academy.
“He went to Loughborough on a full year scholarship with extensive training and training, he played with the NFL Academy and was potentially scouted for a scholarship to go to America.
“It shows that a kid from Belfast who was born in Dublin ended up playing for us at 18 and in two years he finds himself at the Academy and it can be done.”
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