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My American Football Journey- Ash James

Ash James - The Battered Bastards

Hi. My name is Ash James and I currently play runningback for the Birmingham Bulls in the UK.

I got into football back when I was in college. One of my tutors at the time had experience of the local American Football scene and showed me some clips from a game. He suggested that I should look into it further. As a teenager, I enjoyed keeping active as a form of distraction from coursework and other struggles, so football seemed perfect for me.

I found a team local to me and attended some ‘taster’ training sessions. After the first one, I was hooked. The way the team portrayed the game and executed their drills in an hour long session was fantastic and I signed up.

Rookie Year – Tamworth Pheonix

My rookie year, I was a wide receiver and not expected to see much game time. Instead, it was to be a year of learning the fundamentals of the position and the game.

Ash James  - Tamworth Pheonix
Ash James – Tamworth Pheonix

I got my first game reps during a game against East Kilbride. It involved an 8 hour coach trip and, at 19 years old, I had never experienced an away trip like this before, but it was a great experience. We won the game 55-7, and even though I had limited reps, it was a great introduction to football. I got a real feel of what was to come in the future.

The season seemed to fly by. We finished up as Kings of the North by going 10 games undefeated. That streak was ended when we succumbed to the London Blitz. That defeat was tough to watch, but it showed me how the top level teams play and what I wanted to aspire to. I just remember the disappointment etched on my teammates faces after the final whistle when we knew that all our hard work had fell short.

During that rookie year, I was lucky enough to attend the first Jacksonville Jaguars camp at Loughborough University. It was a great insight into how popular the sport really was. I got to meet players from Switzerland, Latvia and even New Zealand. It was phenomenal to know just how big the sport was worldwide.

Year 2 – First and Second Transfer

Heading into my first off-season, I knew I had a lot of work to do. After a few months of OTA’s, I took it upon myself to find a team in a lower division in order to get more experience and game time. So, I transferred to Shropshire Revolution.

My time with the Revolution was short lived though. It was a lot harder than I expected. Learning a new playbook and training with a new group of guys wasn’t easy. I also struggled to make it to training consistently as I was working at weekends and the travel was far.

My first game with them was a good away win against Lincoln, but then my season went downhill after suffering a concussion in the next game against Halton.

I hadn’t experienced a head injury before. I didn’t know anything was wrong until I woke up the morning after the game. I was light headed and didn’t know where I was. This continued for a few days before I eventually went to the hospital to get checked out. They confirmed that it was a concussion and I just remember the doctor telling me that I couldn’t play football for, at least, another month. I felt empty and was just thinking how this was going to affect my season.

Ash James  - Shropshire Revolution
Ash James – Shropshire Revolution

I was placed in the concussion protocol and couldn’t finish the year, but I was still there at games to support my team.

During the ride home after the final game, I just sat there thinking if this was the sport for me after all, or if I could ever make it to the top level. I decided to leave Shropshire the next day and wasn’t ready to kit up again anytime soon. The way I was feeling at the time was something i thought football could take me away. I wasn’t enjoying football, or my job, but this was down to me not doing what I expected of myself.

But, 3 weeks after leaving the Shropshire Revolution, I got a call from Coach Sheldon at the Birmingham Bulls. He asked if I was still interested in playing, and if I would be willing to see out the season with them instead of quitting the game. I decided to sign up.

The Bulls hadn’t won a game all year, but the first game I went down to watch, they won the game to keep the hope of staying in Division 1 alive. But we ended up losing the next 3 games straight and had to travel to the conference leaders for the last game of the season and only victory would keep us in the division.

We suffered an injury to a defensive player in the first quarter. Due to our small squad, I had to fill the hole. It turned out to be one of the toughest days I’ve ever faced in my career. I was totally out of my depth and made multiple mistakes. They put up over 50 points on us and doomed us to relegation to Division 2. In 12 months, The Bulls went from a conference title to relegation. It was a hard, humbling lesson for everyone involved.

Year 3

After being relegated, the small squad of 24 players at The Bulls got together and promised each other that we would get better next year.

Pre-season started in January, it was freezing and snowing the whole month, but we knew we had to train through it if we wanted to improve. We recruited hard, doubled our numbers, and trained every single week in the harsh winter conditions.

The season started and we won our first 2 games. I was playing receiver, but I started to find myself slipping down the depth chart. I was being outplayed by rookies. Frustrating as it was, I was still glad to see the team starting to win games but I felt as if I needed a position change.

I spoke to the Head Coach and the Offensive Coordinator and we decided I would make the switch to Runningback. That’s when things started getting a lot better.

Ash James  - Birmingham Bulls  - Photo by Three Five Three photography
Ash James – Birmingham Bulls – Photo by Three Five Three photography

My first game, I got 1 carry for 6 yards and blocked the rest of the game. I was still learning the position, but I knew I could make it my own. Over the next few games I got more involved and was able to show my progress, but I still wasn’t making the impact I wanted. It felt like my rookie year all over again, not getting much game time etc, but I was determined to force my way into more action before the season was out.

We had a game against Humber and I knew this was my chance. My number was called during the second half, I went in and repeatedly moved the chains. I finished with around 35 yards, but I kept the clock running enough to secure our 7th win of the year.

After a tough season, I got my chance to finally start. We were playing our Division rivals with a chance to claim the conference. A massive game. I remember it was raining and during the first drive moved the ball to the 2 yard line. A Run play was called and I knew this was my chance to score. I could feel the adrenaline pump through me, but I was nervous at the same time. I took the hand off and the ball came out. I fumbled on the goal line.

I got up and was just totally frustrated and disappointed in myself because we were so close to scoring and I messed up. I didn’t get another carry after that. We ended up losing the game by 6 points and I couldn’t stop thinking that I was 2 yards away from scoring the touchdown that could have won us the game. It ate away at me.

Ash James - Ash after fumbling the ball
Ash James – Ash after fumbling the ball

In the next game, the semi final, I fumbled again on my first carry. Back to back fumbles. I was disappointed but I knew I had to pick myself up. I was new to the position and this was just a harsh learning curve. I watched loads of film to see what I could do to improve.

I’m now heading in to year 4 with a new determination to improve and get better. I have personal goals set for the season and I vow to be an asset to my team. I would encourage everyone to give football a go.

Ash

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