We visited an XL Performance session in December to learn about the football coaching programme and discuss its goals and ambitions for British American football!
Just before 8 am at a quiet North London 3G pitch, some of the country’s most promising young American football talent get together to hone their skills.
With the social distancing and Covid protocols in place, these players are just happy to have the chance to work on themselves and the sport they love.
Keeping a watchful eye over the six or seven skill position players at today’s session is XL Performance founder Kojo Oteng. Oteng, known on social media by his handle Coach XL, played football in the US with Ave Maria University before returning to the UK to establish XL Performance.
Now committed to developing the brightest young Britballers and preparing them to make the leap across the pond, Oteng is building a brand. XL represents one more opportunity for these sportsmen to take advantage of, in a time when regular Britball seems something of a fantasy.
XL Performance is certainly not a one-man-show. Oteng is building a staff of veterans who, just like him, are dedicated to getting the best out of the UK’s youngsters. While he himself is a defensive back with a wealth of wisdom to share, he is joined by his brother Kwabena Oteng, a former London Warriors running back and Alex Ocana-Dickson, a Britbowl winning quarterback with London Blitz turning his trade to coaching young signal-callers.
Like all sport, British American football is suffering from the pandemic. Club training has ground to a halt and lockdown is keeping players from the field. The players in attendance at XL Performance, however, offer an optimistic glimpse of the future of British American football. In the brief moments when government guidance allows it, Britball’s young stars are persevering.
“I was just like them one day. I needed someone to help me train but when there was no one around. Now I am one of those people that helps others develop. Everyone is doing great work around Europe, I just want to be part of the takeover.”
Pandemic aside, youth and junior football in the UK continues to grow and develop. The founding of the NFL Academy just minutes from XL Performance’s stomping ground has offered another fantastic platform for the sport’s young proponents. The elite coaching and resources it provides are impressive, but we can’t pretend that this is new territory in the UK. Organisations like Filton College in Bristol have long shown their dedication to the improvement of junior football in the country, sending players abroad and building the reputation of the sport among younger audiences. Altogether, it is incredibly encouraging that Britball hopefuls now have opportunities to take their football goals seriously.
“It’s a platform, a support system. It’s a place for kids to live out their dreams.”Oteng on the potential of the NFL Academy
Oteng and XL Performance offer even more time, advice and competition for academy and club prospects alike. Whether it’s defensive back Onis Konanbanny of the Kent Exiles, recently ranked third in his class by Europe’s Elite, or NFL Academy alumni and Loughborough Students tight end Henry Rowland, the players at XL Performance are clearly raring to train, compete, and excel.
It may be the nature of the Britball community or the extensive reach of Oteng’s young brand, but XL finds itself at the centre of the junior game. Darren Agu, another NFL Academy and Blitz U19 graduate, frequently appears on social media working with XL Performance, and after a year of high school football, the young Brit now finds himself with multiple Division 1 college offers. Whether it’s at Ole Miss, Arkansas or elsewhere, the fact that Agu and his compatriots will soon be on college fields is testament to the growth of the British junior game and the efforts of coaches like Oteng.
Oteng embodies the passion, enthusiasm and confidence that is carrying Britball forwards. The presence of XL Performance on social media and the content being produced by creators like Play Action Coverage are giving these young athletes and their sport the recognition it deserves. Looking at what happens on the field itself, the competitive atmosphere and attention to detail at Coach XL’s sessions speak volumes. In his own words, “the proof is in the pudding.” The desire is there among Britball’s youth to take this sport to very lofty heights. For that to happen, academies and coaches like Oteng across the country will have to continue building the resources to propel young talent across the pond, and into the NFL.
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