Smith-Schuster backs London Academy to produce NFL talent

London (AFP) –


Pittsburgh Steelers star JuJu Smith-Schuster believes the NFL's ground-breaking academy in London could turn into a production line for British talent in American Football.

Around 150 teenagers travelled to the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on Tuesday to take part in the final try-out for the first intake into the landmark NFL Academy, which is the first of its kind outside the United States and will start in September.

There have been five British-born players who have played roles on Super Bowl-winning teams, including Jay Ajayi with the Philadelphia Eagles just two seasons ago.

But none of that group spent their entire childhood or teenage years in the United Kingdom, all benefitting from exposure to the NCAA college football that serves as a breeding growth for future NFL talent.

However, the NFL is becoming increasingly popular in the United Kingdom, with up to four regular-season games per year played in London since 2007.

And, speaking in his role as an ambassador of the new Academy, Smith-Schuster sees encouraging signs that Britain has the potential to bring through genuinely homegrown players who can shine in the NFL.

"I see a lot of potential. One guy jumped higher than me in the trials," he told reporters after working with the youngsters during their trials.

"There are a lot of guys who are out here who just don't know what they can achieve.

"I didn't know how big it was in the UK until I came out here today."

The trialists were put through their paces in a series of combine-style drills replicating the evaluation tests college football players are put through before entering the NFL draft.

The lucky students, aged 16-18, who are selected for the Barnet and Southgate College-based Academy, will be given pathways to employment and further education, with the most talented potentially landing an opportunity to play college football in the States.

- Attention to detail -

Smith-Schuster is the Steelers' top wide receiver and in just his second season, he took the NFL by storm with 111 receptions for 1,426 yards and seven touchdowns.

The 22-year-old's superb form last season earned a Pro Bowl nomination for the former second round draft pick from the University of Southern California.

While Britain's aspiring gridiron hopefuls aren't up to his high standards just yet, Smith-Schuster was impressed with the way they responded to his advice.

"The biggest thing I took away is these guys, if they listen, the attention to details, they do the technique and they execute it," he said.

"I was telling one guy how to adjust his 40 yard dash technique. He did and he was faster. It's just those little details.

"Hopefully one day they have a London team and they trade me here. That would be lit!"

Former England rugby union international Christian Wade is already trying to make it in the NFL after signing a contract with the Buffalo Bills in April.

He was back in London to help coach and mentor the Academy trialists and he agreed with Smith-Schuster that the outlook is promising.

"There's great talent out there and the future is looking bright for everyone," Wade said.

"This is a great opportunity for the guys in the UK, having this option now.

"They are going to have two, three, four years to start developing the game, just the fundamentals. So they have an easier transition."