Anthony Dablé: An American Football Life

In February, we announced that 27-year-old Anthony Dablé — a 6-5, 215-pound wide receiver from Grenoble, France was signed by the New York Giants after a single workout. Widely considered one of the most dangerous receivers and returners in Europe, Dablé played with the German Football League’s Braunschweig New Yorker Lions in 2015.

Since he reported to the Giants’ offseason program two months ago, Dablé has been fully immersed into the NFL’s year round professional schedule and culture, training alongside and learning from the Giants stand-out wide receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Victor Cruz.

“We are running and lifting for like two hours everyday and run routes like two times a week,” says Dablé. “I really love to learn right now. I’m good with all the concepts, to learn all the formations and everything. I’m most learning the plays and the system right now.”

What is new for for Dablé, is the offensive system installed by former offensive coordinator and current Giants head coach Bob MacAdoo.

“I’ve got to get used to that language. What is different is the length of the play-call. They will say the protection, the motion, and the concepts, so it is long. But, the quarterback is telling everyone what they need to do.”

Dablé been tasked with learning and lining up at the X receiver, opposite of the Z slot occupied by Beckham Jr. and Cruz. Dablé says both stars have been helpful with route-running, hand signals, and even recovery techniques (i.e cold tub, hot tub, cold tub).

Dablé has been impressed with the level of professionalism he’s seen in the players and system the Giants have in place.

“Everybody, even on their off days, goes to the facility. There is always something to do. To stretch, to have little workout, … to take care of your body, learning, studying, just really being a professional.

All the guys here, they can catch the football. They can run the routes. They know the playbook. They know the defenses. They know football. So it is good to be around players like that. They work with me really well and help me with everything.”

From Europe to New York

Over the next few weeks Dablé schedule is all football. Mini-camps begin next week, Tuesday through Thursday, and then he’s off to Chicago and the NFL Draft on Friday to support fellow European Moritz Boehringer. Boehringer, a receiver from the GFL’s Schwäbisch Hall Unicorns, shocked the American football world last month when he put up incredible numbers at NFL Pro Day at Florida Atlantic University in front dozens of NFL scouts.

Dablé, at 27, does not have to go through the draft process. He says both the organization and fans have been extremely supportive. Some of the Giants’ faithful have tracked him down on social media to welcome him and show him love.

Dable isn’t the first Frenchmen to get a shot at the NFL. Sebastien Sejean, a safety who got his start with the Molosses D’Asnieres-sur-Seine and Spartiates D’Amiens, and then, through NFL Europe got a shot with the St. Louis Rams where he played in a number of 2008 pre-season matches.

Philippe Gardent, a linebacker also from Grenoble, spent time with both the Carolina Panthers and Washington Redskins in 2006 and 2007.

When asked if he thought it was important for a Frenchman to make an NFL team, Dablé humbly considered the impact he may have.

“For the visibility of the NFL in France it will definitely change something if I happen to make the team. More French people may watch the NFL and know about the sport.

But, besides that, I don’t know how it will affect the way football is played in France.

That is, unless all the guys who go and play at the highest level come back and give something, coaching-wise. Or if the government in France changes and gives more money to American football clubs.That is really the difference between here and there. The money that is invested football programs there is really different.

Everything is money and coaching. Then you search for the talents, and draw the attention from people that may want to play football.”

Dominate Everything

Since the news broke about Dablé signing, he’s been contacted by young boys that play football in France asking him how he’s gotten this far. Dablé tells them what he’s done.

“Find the best and learn from them. Learn the language, because that is the language of your sport. Do everything step by step, level by level. Dominate everything. At every step and level you work and play at.”

France aside, Dablé is aware of the global impact he may have. As American football grows both internationally and in France, it seems to be following the path basketball has taken to become a global sport. Basketball grew internationally, bolstered by the emergence foreign national star players like Croatia’s Tony Kukoc, Lithinuania’s Arvydas Sabonis, China’s Yao Ming, Germany’s Dirk Nowitzski, or France’s Tony Parker. Parker was voted France’s favorite sports person in January 2014, ahead of soccer legend Zinedine Zidane who dominated the rankings for more than a decade.

There is no doubt that the popularity of these athletes have helped their sports take hold and grow in their home countries. It seems natural for people to gravitate towards a player or a sport if they have a connection to it. It may be difficult for citizen of France or a French sports fan to relate to an NFL team, or to American football at all, unless one of their countrymen or someone they know is now succeeding in that area.

An American Football Life

It only takes a few minutes with the thoughtful Dablé to understand that a lack of maturity and over-blown ego won’t be what keeps him from NFL stardom.

“To get to the point of where I am at now, it is because football is my passion and I wanted to go the furthest I can. That is the only difference between me and the other guys. I wanted to give everything to football. Even if football didn’t bring me everything, I give everything to football. That’s why I think I’ve gotten the opportunity I have right now.

For other people it may be different. They don’t want to put in that much effort… and that is the thing I can’t understand. It’s not their passion and they have not committed to football the way I did. And because it is a reality of football that it takes commitment.”

Unlike being just a sport as it is to most, American football plays a much stronger part in the life of Dablé.

“The difference for me and some people, I think, is that I didn’t grow up with my father. Every good coach that I’ve had was like a father figure to me.

Football has given me so much, and because of the similarities between football and life, this is why I love football so much and I give everything to football.

If you don’t have that kind of experience I understand why you may not be that attached to football. That football is not everything, but it is a big in my life. A part of growing up, turning from a boy to a man. Football turned me into a man. That is why I love football.”

Dablé attributes a lot of his football passion to Larry Legault, the former French national team head coach, longtime Thonon-les-bains Black Panthers coach, and current coach of the Geneva Seahawks.

However he also credits ‘every single football documentary’ he’s watched. Dablé’s first American football coach was the video content on Youtube and He became a New Orleans Saints fan after watching highlights of Drew Brees and Reggie Bush and a Giants fan watching the aggressive New York defensive front led by Osi Umenyiora, Justin Tuck, and Michael Strahan.

“I would take everything they say, everything about their life and the hard times, I would take that personally and take it as advice,” says Dablé.

When we began chatting about the NFL’s International Series and the Giants’ past trip to London, Dablé jumped right on it saying he watched the broadcast of the Giants’ match against the Dolphins in 2011 with his mother and brother. He’d love to one day play in front a European crowd once again, but next time at the highest level.

France - Team France - Dable

In his last two seasons in Germany’ German Football League with the Braunschweig New Yorker Lions Dablé played in front of home crowds of 4,000 to 5,000. His two trips to the German Bowl had the Lions in front of nearly 12,000 fans. This however is a far cry from a sold-out Met-Life Stadium crowd of over 82,000.

NFL Players Worldwide

When asked if he thought there were many other potential NFL prospects hidden around the globe, Dablé didn’t hesitate.

“Just because a country may not have American football, doesn’t mean there are not other people like me or Efe (British DE Efe Odaba, signed with Kansas City Chiefs), Mo’ (German WR Mortiz Boehringer, 2016 NFL Draft prospect), that give everything to football. There are definitely other players that should get try-outs.

I hope that what we are doing here will help scouts see other people. Scouts have been watching tapes, but they still didn’t believe. They were like ‘the level of competition is low’ or ‘the other guys are slow.’ If you are like Mo’, and you run a sub 4.4 (40-yard dash), no matter who is playing with you, you have NFL potential. That is really the way they should see it. I hope they do, because it is a life changing opportunity and I hope some other people get that chance.”

Luckily for Dablé, we think it works both ways.

All NFL teams want to scout and sign the top talent they can find, no matter where it is. The excitement around Dablé and Boehringer are evidence of that, and more NFL clubs seem to be jumping on board. There are athletes around the globe that have these skills, and although there may not be many of the them and they maybe difficult to find, they do exist.

Giant Opportunity

Dablé essentially bootstrapped his way this far and his passion and hunger for success are plain.

“Because of how old I am and from what I’ve learned about the NFL, watching every video I could, I know how big of an opportunity this is. Because of my age (27) I’m mature. I know what is is like to work. I think others may not know how lucky they are to get that chance to play in the NFL and to be drafted by a team.”

There is still a long road ahead for Dablé.

The Giants roster currently sits at 80 players, of which Dablé is counted. After next week’s draft the rookie mini-camp roster will swell to 90. Next up is OTAs, organized training activities, on May 23rd, where he’ll continue to work and learn.

When training camp rolls around in early August those 90 will first be culled to 75, and then a final 53-man roster after the final week of the pre-season. Teams may keep up to 10 additional athletes signed to a practice squad.

Dablé knows every number and every date.

“Twenty-seven of the guys I’m working with now are going to get cut before the season starts. I’ve learned from going from one level to another, the difference is… people are going to catch every ball. People are going to make less mistakes, that is what being a pro is about. Once you have the physical side of it, you need to have less mental errors, less drops, don’t miss a block, or mis-read a defense. That is really the difference.

So that is what I need to do. To learn my playbook, learn more alignment, run my routes, don’t drop the ball, and make plays.”

Former Giants’ receiver and current Director of Player Development David Tyree has told Dablé to do his job on offense and impress coaches on special teams.

“If you know giving effort on special teams and dropping balls, and repeatedly making mistakes then you are not a pro and they can’t trust you. It’s all about trust. There is no room for mistakes.”

Despite the pressures Dablé is loving all of it.

“It’s my passion. It’s the only thing I have to think about.”

When asked if he’s catching any passes from two-time Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning, Dablé laughs to himself, “Yes, it’s crazy. And now he is throwing the ball to me.” Then, without missing a beat, he follows,

“Can’t wait for it to happen in a game!”

John McKeon is a former professional and collegiate American Football player and coach now living and working in New York. His goal is to spread news, information, and opinion on the global growth of the sport he loves.