Belgian Barbarians head coach Lee Rosky sets his sights on Team Russia

As the Belgian national team – the Belgian Barbarians – gets set to take on Team Russia this weekend in their second international game of the year, their head coach, Canadian Lee Rosky who hails from Nova Scotia but now lives in Brussels, took a few minutes to talk to AFI.

The Barbarians have been one of the busiest national teams in Europe since Rosky, athletic director at the International School of Brussels, took over in 2014, playing between two and four games a year. Earlier this year, Belgium edged Spain 18-16 and last year they beat both Spain and Hungary. In 2015, they played four games including a tough loss to Holland in a European qualifier in front of almost 5,000 roaring Dutch fans. 

American Football International: How long have you been in charge of the Belgian national team, aka Belgian Barbarians?

Lee Rosky: I have been involved with the Barbarians for four years, basically since the start of the program. I have been the Head Coach for over three years now.

AFI: How did you get involved in the first place?

Rosky: I was coaching American Football at the International School of Brussels and found out that there were club teams in the area so I ended up coaching with the Waterloo Warriors. I was then approached about helping out with a new national team project so I agreed to coach the offensive line. I was the O line coach for the first Barbarian game when we played the Dutch Lions in Ostende then I took over as head coach.

AFI:  How many international games have you played?

Rosky: The Barbarians will be playing their ninth game when we hit the field against Russia on the weekend. We have five wins and three losses at this point. We have travelled to Kuwait, Holland, Poland, Spain and Hungary…it has been a great ride.

AFI:  How do you think the national team has helped the growth and popularity of the game in Belgium?

Rosky: Good question but hard to answer. I think the Barbarians have had a big impact on the American Football community in Belgium. I believe that we have created a sense of pride for Belgians who love the game. We have an amazing following through social media and get a great deal of support at games. We have also helped to “narrow the divide” a little between the French and Flemish sides. The game is very popular in Belgium and the leagues are expanding all the time.

I don’t think that we have really made a huge dent in Belgium in terms of impact outside of the American Football Community but we are working on it. We made an appearance on a very popular Belgian TV series and the national press is giving us more and more attention as we grow. We are hoping that this attention will help us gain more sponsorship in the near future, that has been a tough nut to crack.

AFI:  You are playing Russia this weekend. How much do you know about them?

Rosky: It is always tough in these international games because so much can change from one game to the next. We have scouted game film when they played the GB Lions and a couple of others but there is no guarantee that the players and coaches are the same a year or more later. We know that they will be big and physical, particularly on the offensive and defensive lines.

AFI:  With all of the seasons in Europe over, are you able to bring your best players?

Rosky: We are happy with the team that we have put together. We have a core of players that have been with us for a long time. A few have been with us from the start. The timing of this game allows us to have a couple of players back from playing abroad in Germany, Holland and Finland. We are looking for big games from Nick Vanhee, Jerome Bottin and Godichal Hadrien on defense while Tomasz Firszt, Arkadi Meerschout, Ruben De Ruyter and Mike Schoonheyt should be taking the lead on offense.

Team Belgium in action against Spain Photo: Bob de Calonne

AFI:  You may have the most active national team in the world. How much improvement have you seen?

Rosky: I never thought of that but we will take the title if you are handing it out. On the field, we have seen great improvement over the past four years. I think exposure to international American Football has helped our players understand what it takes to be successful at the next level. We now have more players training and doing all the things needed to succeed we have a long way to go but it is a start.

Every year we lose players to injury, retirement or playing outside Belgium and other players step up. I am hoping that the next generation continues to raise the bar so that the program can continue to grow.

We are also trying hard to improve off the field. Running a program like this takes a lot of work and we are trying to build a “support system” to help run the organization. Our General Manager Christophe Olenaed does an amazing job dealing with all of the logistics and finances but we always need help. We now have a staff of roughly twenty people but that is not enough when you try to stay as active as we do.

AFI: What are your expectations this weekend?

Rosky: Are you looking for me to give Russia something to put on the locker room wall as motivation? I think Saturday will be a real battle. The game will be physical and a barn burner. I predict the game will be decided by less than a touchdown in the end.

I would like to thank the International School of Brussels for all of their support in hosting the Russia game this week. I would also like to thank American Football International for covering our program and our games, it helps in getting the word out there.

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