‘Superbowl’ of Gridiron Victoria set, South Eastern Predators & Western Crusaders to vie for 2017 Vic Bowl

This Saturday May 13th, in Gridiron Victoria’s Colts Division, the South Eastern Predators Gridiron Club will take on the Western Crusaders Gridiron Club for the 2017 VIC BOWL.

One of three games scheduled for the day, at the home of the oldest and proudest American football club in the state of Victoria – Ranger Field in Croydon (a suburb of Melbourne) – the ‘Superbowl’ of American football will showcase some of the country’s top 15-19 year old student-athletes.

Although not registered under Gridiron Australia, Gridiron Victoria promotes awareness of American football through community engagement and marketing activities in addition to nontraditional, mainstream media. In line with the International Federation of American Football (IFAF) and American Football International, since 1999 Gridiron Victoria’s Western Crusaders have participated in Gridiron Victoria’s leagues being one of 13 clubs spread throughout the Melbourne metropolitan, Bendigo, Ballarat, Geelong and Gippsland areas.

Located in the western suburbs of Melbourne, the Western Crusaders Gridiron Club (WCGC) Colts team is led by head coach and American born, Brian Calloway. Vying for their first VIC BOWL win since 2013, Calloway believes the Crusaders have a legitimate chance at taking home the championship.

“Our guys believe that provided we prepare that way that we’re capable of, stay focused on playing one down at a time and controlling game situations, we can come out on top,” said Calloway. Down at half-time of the semi-final match up against Melbourne University Gridiron Club (MUGC), 22-18, the Crusaders came back to win 40-28, avenging a 22-15 loss to the 2016 VIC BOWL second place team a week ago.

“A great finish by the Cru provided too much for the MUGC,” said Matthew Ireland, WCGC vice president. “It’s a fantastic result for these young men.”

An ambassador of the worldwide movement to build, share, and establish American football as a global sport with a global community, Calloway views his coaching role as one that can help grow the sport in the land down under. Believing that he can contribute significantly to the growth of American football in Australia, Calloway said that there is a strong fan base in Australia that love American football. Through quality, world-class coaching and transformative life experiences through sports participation, the Philadelphia native is excited to build, share, and establish American Football as a global sport within the Victoria community, as well as the throughout the nation.

“Our slogan is “We Are One” – a philosophy that emphasizes teamwork, spirit, inclusion, loyalty, and club unity. We value players of all shapes, sizes, and athletic abilities,” Calloway said in a phone interview. “What’s most important in a player, to me as a coach, is work ethic and team spirit,” said the alum of West Philadelphia High School who attended the Historically Black College/University (HBCU), Cheyney University.

Founded in 1998, WCGC initially fielded a senior men’s team, expanding to include both a junior team and a women’s team, the Western Foxes. The club has a proud history of success that includes three senior men’s VIC BOWL championships (1999, 2000 & 2007), one women’s VIC BOWL championship (2013) and one junior VIC BOWL championship (2013). The Junior Cru lost just one game, during the 2013 season, before storming to victory in the Junior VIC BOWL.

Last year, the 2016 college football season kicked off in Australia with the University of California facing the University of Hawaii, drawing enough interest that the NFL may consider a game down under as well. Telling the Sydney Morning Herald that the NFL has been monitoring fan interest, Hawaii Athletic Director David Matlin said the NFL was obviously “paying attention to this.”

“I think it’s a possibility [that an NFL game will take place in Australia],” he said. “I think you have the facilities and the sports enthusiasts, so it’s a real good place for sporting events.”

More than 61,000 fans attended the Cal vs. Hawaii game in Sydney’s ANZ Stadium. Fans showed their willingness to spend money at an American football game, with the stadium issuing an apology for not being able to meet the fans’ “unprecedented demand for food and beverage offerings, resulting in unfortunate queues,” a spokesman for ANZ Stadium said.

“We had more than 61,000 people walk into the venue just before lunchtime all wanting to eat and drink,” he said. “This created long queues that took an extended period to service. The specific demand for American-style food products that took longer to prepare – such as the 2-foot hot dogs – added to the challenges,” according to an article published on profootballtalk.nbcsports.com.

The first Australian to play in the NFL was Colin Ridgeway, who played Aussie Rules for Carlton in the 1960’s before being picked up by the Dallas Cowboys as a punter. After him came Colin Scotts, who went to college in Hawaii before being drafted to play with the Phoenix Cardinals and then the Houston Oilers in the middle to late 1980’s. In 1995, Darren Bennett became the third Australian to play in the NFL when he was selected as the punter for the San Diego Chargers.

“He was the first guy to really transition over from Australian Rules football to American football so he’s sort of like an icon to most Aussie blokes because he played something like 10 years in league and he was the first guy to do it,” stated Oregon State’s Nick Porebski in an ESPN article. The Melbourne native said Bennett “led the way for Aussies to come in and punt in the states.”

In Kevin Seifert’s How American football is becoming a worldwide sport last year, the ESPN national NFL writer highlighted the success of the American Football League of China (AFLC) which includes about 1,000 players on 16 teams throughout China, the most significant football league in a country that now counts about 5,000 men and women playing some level of tackle football. According to the International Federation of American Football (IFAF), there are 80 countries with organized federations governing the game, from China to Germany to South Africa.

At the date of the article’s publishing (almost a year ago to the day – May 6, 2016), the number of international players in the NFL was so minuscule that the league doesn’t officially track the numbers. Before last year’s draft, Pro Football Reference’s database counted 23 players who attended high school outside of the United States, about 0.9 percent of the total players on off-season rosters. In Fox Sports’ Australia’s growing list of NFL players now at 13 after Adam Gotsis and Lachlan Edwards debut, the media outlet provides a list of every Australian NFL player dating back to 1965 – standing at 13 as of last season. Reports from the recent NFL Draft, held in Calloway’s hometown, have not produced figures that have indicated a change in the aforementioned statistic.

Through a formal partnership with USA Football, the NFL’s amateur outreach arm, the IFAF is doing its part in providing resources to help grow the game. The Heads Up Football training program is made available to any national federation that joins and many leagues import American coaches and consultants to help establish modern techniques.

“There’s so much potential for American football to grow down here,” Calloway said who had lived in Australia for more than a decade. “There are too many opportunities to use the sport as a tool to educate, motivate and elevate the lives of our young people throughout Victoria and the entire country.”

“Participating in this Saturday’s game is an indication that we are on the right path to developing our student-athletes into sound football players,” Calloway stated proudly. “I’m excited for what the future holds!”

Louis Bolling
Sports | Business | Society | Education | Multimedia | @PhillyTrib Contributing Writer | @HuffPost Blogger
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