A NU GENERATION
If you have ever watched the TV show Friday Night Lights then you’ll love all the hype going into the Uni American Football season this year.
Uncertain times lie ahead for the Newcastle Raiders. Last year they were undefeated in the regular season, winning eight games out of eight and securing the number two seed in the country heading into the national playoffs. A disappointing defeat to Loughborough Aces in the first round was an all too familiar feeling for many of the veteran players, some of whom had tasted the bitterness of defeat in the playoffs for five consecutive years.
No doubt, however, the Raiders would be back to challenge for the national title next season.
Now that season is upon us, and for the Newcastle Raiders it represents unfamiliar territory. The Borders conference, which the Raiders have routinely dominated for years, is no more. Newcastle will now compete in a newly formed and much more competitive entity; the North East Division. It will include heavyweights Hull and Leeds Carnegie, both of whom will prove tough match-ups for the Raiders.
The level of competition faced by Newcastle in regular seasons past has been akin to the resistance Manchester United would encounter in third tier Australian football. The feeling throughout the club is that the new division will more adequately prepare the Raiders for the challenge of the playoffs.
American Football is also entering its first year as an official BUCS sport. It is a move which will bring a great deal of benefit to the team, but that benefit will be balanced by a greater weight of expectation. The pressure to perform to the high standards which have been set in recent years will be heightened, particularly with the injection of increased university funding befitting of a BUCS team sport.
Guiding the team through these uncharted waters will be newly-appointed Head Coach Matthew Hall, who will be leading an equally inexperienced coaching staff. Coach Hall will be stepping into a role which has been held for nearly a decade by the recently-resigned Ben Johnson, who helped build the Raiders into the powerhouse of British American Football that they are today.
I was able to speak to the new Head Coach about the pressures of taking on the role. “In the last 5 years we have lost only one regular season game, won our division four times and made it to the National final once.
“Coach Johnson was a fantastic coach and ran the club very professionally,” said Coach Hall of his predecessor. “However, I wouldn’t have taken the position if I didn’t feel that I could do just as well, if not better than has been done in the past”. The players undoubtedly also share in Coach Hall’s belief that, with a bit of luck, the team, “can go all the way this year”.
Coach Hall also commented on an emerging as a star player this season, to which he replied; “Alexander McPeake. He grew and grew as a middle backer last season and I look for more of the same this year”. This may come as a disappointment to Anthony Whitfield and Callum Robertson, whose efforts in the gym during the summer have brought them to the combined weight of a metric tonne.
Team Captain Jim Harvey also weighed in on the changes faced by the Raiders this year. The Middle Line-backer seemed particularly pleased with the new BUCS status enjoyed by American football; “This has been a change we’ve been supporting for years.
It helps promote the sport both to students already at university and prospective students looking for sport to take up once they start”. Harvey, entering his second year as team captain, also pointed out how the ability to earn BUCS points increases the team’s value to the university and if they earn the funding then this would make “winning our division and even winning the national championship” possible.
It is easy to dismiss the attitudes of the Head Coach and Team Captain as unrealistic, but one has to admire the general confidence surrounding this team in the face of a great deal of change. Time will tell if the results can live up to the pre-season rhetoric. Harvey professes himself, “a big believer in breaking down goals into small chunks, game by game”.
That will be the mentality for the Newcastle Raiders heading into a new and exciting season.