With a hand in developing some of the world’s most celebrated athletes, like Olympic Gold Medalist Swimmer 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 home to the first official NFL Academy, anywhere in the world.

Eager to find out what is happening at the grass roots, M&F were granted an exclusive, inside look at this ground-breaking program, meeting the experts and players that are helping to change the game.

Established in 2019, the NFL Academy is now fully based in the cutting-edge sporting environment of Loughborough University and consists of 63 players representing 10 different countries, all aged between 16 and 19 years. Successful applicants have joined the Academy from far and wide to pursue their individual potential with dreams of landing a spot on a U.S. college football program, or furthering their academic studies by joining the sport as a coach or in another related role.

Student at the NFL Academy throwing up signs
NFL Academy

The NFL Academy Ushers In 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 taste of professional experience working in elite sports at Leicester Tigers Rugby Club. Oaten went on to develop his skills as an Athletic Development Coach before joining Loughborough Sport and the NFL Academy coaching team. Now, he’s able to share his enthusiasm and expertise with the roster of up-and-coming talents within the UK based program. “I’m working with some very talented young men,” beams the Carolina Panthers supporter. “These are guys, who want to achieve that big goal of one day getting to the NFL.” The Academy is serious about providing it’s students with the opportunity to turn those dream into reality, and affords these young men every conceivable resource required to perform at the highest level. “I think the NFL’s done a great job in establishing this initiative and it gives an opportunity to athletes all over the world, who may not have got one otherwise,” he says.

The NFL Academy traveled to the United States in June. During this trip, 13 lucky players were sent to Texas to take part in three high school “mega camps.” They took part in drills and tested their mettle at The University of Houston, Southern Methodist University, and Texas Christian University during their visit, and were also given access to the Dallas Cowboys training facility to boot. The tour was a huge success and made a positive impression on the coaching staff, stateside.

“It was awesome,” said Southern Methodist University defensive line coach Calvin Thibodeaux during filming on the trip. “They were very competitive, they had a good energy about themselves, and they were confident in their abilities, so, very pleased that hopefully this door is a pipeline to get more kids to come out.”

After some standout performances during the camp, a number of players received offers to join a host of Division 1 colleges in North America. On Dec. 10, the Academy headed to Paris, where they defeated La Courneuve Flash, 51-0. There’s no doubt that the Academy players are having the time of their lives and following their dreams, but away from the lights is a grind that only the strong can survive. “You have a variety of different personalities and attitudes,” Oaten says of the students that he works with. “I can’t say this enough but the lads, as a whole, are super disciplined, incredibly driven, and they are all very thankful for the opportunity to be here in the first place.”

The S&C coach explains that one of the Academy’s main aims is to provide a stepping stone from high school level up to college/university level, so that athletes can chase a Division 1 scholarship in the USA. But, in addition to this, the skills and qualifications gained during their time at Loughborough University, and their educational partner Loughborough College, will set them up to vie for various types of careers outside of football too. “Not only maximizing their athletic potential, but their human potential as well,” says Oaten.

Students at the NFL academy playing football and gathered in a huddle
NFL Academy

“We’ve got talent. We’re coming for everyone.”

Fletcher Cornwall is 17 years of age and hails from Southampton, England. He played football locally for the Solent Seahawks before joining the NFL Academy. Cornwall is studying biology, chemistry, and math. Gratefully, the player says that he’s been given 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 begin, illustrating the passion and dedication required to chase your dreams.

Mesach Arthur, 16, from Manchester, is in first year of the NFL Academy. Arthur is in the gym five days a week, and trains on the football field four times each week, with football training sessions lasting for around two-and-a-half hours at a time. Arthur is another athlete that is eager to make waves. “We’ve got talent. We’re coming for everyone,” he laughs. On top of the studies, and the exercise, there’s also a necessity for rehab and recovery. Picking up strains and other minor injuries is part of the balling lifestyle, but how do these young men keep their heads on straight when fellow students are out partying? “At the end of the day, it’s discipline,” says Arthur. “If you want it that much, just keep the discipline.”

Rio Tyreke Brown, 17, from North London, is in his second year and says that he’s always been drawn to highly physical sports. Brown’s application process included demonstrating his athletic ability with tasks such as broad jumps and the 40-yard dash. “Typical combine drills,” he tells M&F.

Brown was then asked by the Academy to undertake tests and drills before finally being accepted into a much sought-after place. He feels fortunate to have been granted access to the type of training that is equivalent to what the top high schools and colleges offer in the United States. The player says that gym work is split into sections, and might typically include a day for upper body and a day for lower body work. Brown and his teammates also undertake sessions that are focused on speed, with tasks including sprints around the athletics track, along with mobility work and practices focused on stance and take-off. “So that when it comes to combine day, we are at the best of our ability,” says Brown, who relishes his time in the gym. “We love lifting. Those are our days! The squats, the heavy bench, Romanian deadlifts, cleans, those are the days we really enjoy.” The NFL Academy Coaches leave no stone unturned, even providing individual meal plans for each student. “Everything is catered to here,” says Brown.

Nutritionists design meals that are specific to each player’s needs. These meals are then prepared by on-site chefs and served each day 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 by way of Leeds. With his size and agility, Carter has serious potential. “I did well,” tells M&F of his American adventure. “I didn’t get any offers but I did get quite a lot of interest from a lot of colleges, which I’m in contact with. So, hopefully, after my games this season, I’ll get an offer and then hopefully go out to the United States.” Last year alone, Carter has been in various different counties across Europe with the NFL Academy, including Germany and Sweden. News of the fire and passion that is burning here is forcing the established guard to take note. “Especially this last year, when we went over to America, it definitely was an eye-opener for them. We’ve got a lot of talent over here and they are slowly starting to see it,” he confirms.

NFL Academy is now recruiting for the next intake of students. If you would like a life-changing opportunity, click here to find out how to apply: Applications are open until Jan. 31.