Aberystwyth students representing on a national level

Photo by Pete Wilson

Photo by Pete Wilson

REPRESENTING your country in any sport is a dream for many of us, but two Aberystwyth students have made that dream a reality. Sports Science student Josh Culling and Economics student Curtis Williston have been selected to play for the Great British student American Football team. The two third year students were successful at the trial day in October and are now on the roster for the student team.

Whilst huge in America, American Football is still a minority sport in the UK and neither Curtis nor Josh had much experience playing before they arrived in Aber. Culling had played for a year before university and travelled to Italy with the GB U20 team in 2012 whilst Williston had been nothing more than a fan before university, although this was mainly due to the lack of junior teams in the country.

The game is slowly becoming more popular in the UK, however. There are now a plethora of amateur teams around the country along with a thriving league system. The student game has also come on in leaps and bounds with over 70 universities entering teams into the BUCS competitions. Over 2000 supporters turned out to watch the Birmingham Lions play their first league game of this BUCS season, so the sport is certainly on the rise.

The GB student team is a relatively new initiative and both Josh and Curtis are excited to be involved with the team in its infancy. The team, named the GB Student Lions, travelled to Sweden in April of this year for its inaugural game, running out 41-21 winners. Unfortunately, neither Josh nor Curtis made the trip to Sweden, but they both remain positive about their future chances.

For Curtis, the experience of training with the team is the important thing. “It’s just all about the experience. I learnt more from playing half a day at the trial day than I did in a whole year playing before!” The coach of the GB Lions team has a great deal of pedigree within the game. He has been the head coach of Birmingham Lions since 1999 and took the national job in 2012. Both of the Aberystwyth players speak very highly of him and credit him with improving their game.

Both players play as running backs when on the field. This makes it their job to run the ball forward and, occasionally, take big hits. Culling, who had played rugby from the age of 11 before switching to American Football, says that the hits taken in American Football are unique in sport. ‘In rugby, there are very specific rules regarding how you can tackle opponents’, he says. ‘In American Football, you’re getting hit with helmets. They become more like weapons than protection!’

The GB Student Lions rules state that players can continue to play for the team for up to one year after graduation to a maximum age of 28. The concept of the student team is to feed players into the GB adult team and both players say they would love to be called up one day. Curtis is very hopeful he can stay in the game after university, ‘the game in the UK is still developing but across Europe there are semi-professional leagues and teams will pay accommodation so we can play for them. It’s a very exciting prospect!’

When asked about their hopes for Tarannau’s season the boys are cautiously optimistic. ‘Pretty much the whole offensive line is made up of new guys so we will get better and better throughout the season.’ Unfortunately, Tarannau fell to a 23-3 loss to UWE last time out on the 8th of December, but the future remains bright.