Sports: Alconbury teen athlete works hard for school, British team
June 18, 2008
Like his British teammates, Yul McGrath didn’t grow up playing American football.
McGrath, who will be a senior next year at Alconbury High School, has been playing only since he was a freshman.
But his natural ability and leadership skills have made him a standout at Alconbury and with the Peterborough Saxons, a British youth team whose season got under way last month.
For the 17-year-old, who is captain of both squads, it’s all football, all year.
"I spend a lot of extra time practicing with my friends or going to the gym or learning my plays," said McGrath, who has been in contact with a stateside college about playing ball there next year.
In the meantime, he is devoting the summer to playing for the Saxons, one of 19 junior teams around the country affiliated with the semi-pro British American Football League.
"What helps the team is Yul’s attitude," said Dave Bamford, the Saxons head coach. "He just works so darn hard. He’s a natural leader and an inspiration to others. He sets the tone and the standards for the team."
American players like McGrath are invaluable to the burgeoning teams, said Bamford, who never played American football but has been coaching since his son took up the sport 15 years ago.
"It’s getting more popular with the increase in the amount of air time that the [National Football League] has had here over the last year or so," he said. Another eight youth teams are taking shape around Britain, and Bamford only expects the classic American sport to grow in popularity.
But much the way English differs greatly in Britain and America, so too does football. McGrath said each has its benefits.
Though the British version of the game is a bit slower and players aren’t as skilled as their American counterparts, McGrath said he sometimes prefers it.
"Playing with the Saxons keeps me in shape [for the high-school season] and it turns out to be really fun and they’re not super, super intense," he said. "There’s not as much yelling and that kind of thing."
On the other hand, McGrath said, the Saxons practice only once a week and the league has stricter safety rules, which can hamper the game’s intensity.
"It just depends sometimes," he said. "I love to play for the American team because it’s fast-paced and everyone knows what they’re doing. But I like the British league because there’s just more people and everyone seems to have more fun."
Either way, McGrath said his strong suits are the ability to play multiple positions and help his teammates and coaches on and off the field.
His most common tip?
"Get organized and play with all your heart."