The NFL is opening its first academy for young players in the UK

Jay Ajayi takes a tackleImage copyright Getty Images

The first ever NFL academy is being set up in London, designed to find and train athletes – some of whom might be able to make it over in the States.

The academy for 16 to 18-year-olds, which opens in September, will offer qualifications including BTECs and A-levels, alongside specialist coaching in American football.

Trials for its first 80 pupils are scheduled over the next three months.

The NFL is trying to grow its reputation in the UK.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The NFL hosts competitive matches in the UK, like this one at Wembley last year

“I didn’t even know what American football was when I was growing up,” former Philadelphia Eagles running back – and Super Bowl winner – Jay Ajayi tells Newsbeat.

He was born in London but moved to the USA when he was seven.

“When I got there I just had to fall in love with it, all my mates were playing, but that might not be the same for kids here.

“Before this, London didn’t have a lot of resources for that local kid who loves American football – now they have a place where they can go and chase that dream.”

Jay is one of the ambassadors for the academy, which is going to be based at Barnet and Southgate College in North London.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Jay Ajayi says even one success story would be “huge” for the academy

It’s the NFL’s latest attempt to build its brand internationally.

In 2017 it started a new scheme – called the International Player Pathway Program – which gave teams an extra place in their practice squad, reserved for someone from outside the USA.

And four of its regular season matches this year are being played in London.

NFL bosses hope that a team will one day be based permanently in London.

“The game is growing crazy over here,” Jay Ajayi says.

“So I’m just excited to see what’s next for England – and this academy is just another part of the puzzle because it’s going to start fostering that talent.”

Image copyright Getty Images

But, in terms of his success, Ajayi is a rarity.

Less than 3% of players in the 2018 season were born overseas.

And even in the established route to the NFL for homegrown players – America’s college football system – only 1.6% of the player pool actually make it to the big time.

“If we get even one success story it would be huge,” Ajayi says.

The NFL’s managing director in the UK, Alistair Kirkwood is a bit more measured:

“This is an opportunity to make a real difference to the lives of many young people, regardless of their experience of our sport.

“It is also an opportunity for us to create a pathway for players to get into the American college system and maybe even to the NFL itself.”

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