Iceni Community American Football Academy hoping to expand in Norfolk

The junior training session of the Iceni Community American Football Academy at the UEA Sportspark. The juniors and head coach Alan Gibbs, back centre. Picture: Denise Bradley The junior training session of the Iceni Community American Football Academy at the UEA Sportspark. The juniors and head coach Alan Gibbs, back centre. Picture: Denise Bradley

Monday, June 9, 2014
6:30 AM

American football has struggled to survive in Norfolk since the height of its popularity in the 1980s – but the sport could be set for a resurgence.

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The junior training session of the Iceni Community American Football Academy at the UEA Sportspark. Getting past the defenders. Picture: Denise BradleyThe junior training session of the Iceni Community American Football Academy at the UEA Sportspark. Getting past the defenders. Picture: Denise Bradley

Clubs such as Great Yarmouth-based North Sea Tigers and East Coast Leopards were all well established in the 1980s and 90s but have since disappeared.

The Norwich Devils are still going strong and the UEA Pirates also continue to grow but now an effort is being made to establish a youth network for the sport in the region.

The Iceni Community American Football Academy (ICAFA) has been established as part of work to expand in the community by the UEA Pirates, to try and get more youngsters involved in the sport.

ICAFA’s under-19s side, Iceni Tide, is the only junior American football team in Norfolk but the initiative is hoping to change that by introducing flag American football to local colleges and schools.

Adult training

ICAFA also hold adult training sessions. Meeting at Lakenham Hewett RFC’s training pitch near Swardeston, the sessions are open to anyone over the age of 18, regardless of previous experience of the sport.

Academy president Nick Rockwell said: “We’re looking to build up a player base and what we are hoping to do, because I have been in the game for so long and have got so many contacts in the game, is to put on six or eight practise games.

“We’ve got a lot of new players there and we are hoping to get them the experience this year but what we are saying is we are not going in a breakneck rush to say we will enter a team.

“If we are at a point where we have say 20 players, that is not enough to handle a league season, to play 10 games and deal with injury concerns.

“We want to evolve a strong player base because a lot of new teams rush and get old players and new players together so they have 25 to enter a team.”

Practising at the UEA Sportspark on Sunday mornings, ICAFA hope to eventually enter the junior team into a national full-contact league in the future.

Nick Rockell, former head coach of the UEA Pirates and current running backs coach for the Great Britain Lions, leads the ICAFA initiative.

“It’s about having people who have an interest in the sport because it’s difficult to attract people to come in and try it unless you are doing a specific sessions,” Rockwell said.

“The thing for me is that anybody can play the sport. I was very sporty when I was younger and with football and rugby you pretty much know who will be in the team before you start.

“But in American football there is 11 in offence and 11 in defence and six lots of special teams, so there are a lot of opportunities to go on the field for everybody.

“A lot of people compare it to rugby in this country but the fitness aspect, the contact aspect, is all completely different. If someone wants to play then they can be as a big as they like or as small as they like, if they are prepared to get in the gym and work.

“That’s why I like it, because there are so many different skill sets.”

For more details about ICAFA, go to iceniefootball.co.uk or email academy@icenifootball.co.uk

Have you got a sport story? Contact reporter David Freezer on 01603 772418 or david.freezer@archant.co.uk

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