American Football has been played in the Philippines for five years, and has grown remarkably.
Today, Saturday February 28, in only the fifth year of American football in the Philippines, the Pilipinas Aguilas, the Philippines national team will play an all-star team from Korea – the Korean Tigers – led by head coach Lawrence Bowlby. Bowlby has assembled a team selected from among 32 university teams in Korea and funded by alumni from those schools.
The Aguilas will be playing their third international game in their history. In 2014 they faced the Western Australia Raiders in Manila and lost but gained immeasurable game experience.
They also faced Japan (ranked #3 team in the world, and #1 in Asia) in its inaugural game, which coincidentally was a qualifier for this summer’s 2015 IFAF World Championships in Canton, Ohio.
Led by head coach John Walker and his coaching staff – Michael Bell, David Vannette and Braendon Clay – the Philippines has put together a team they feel will give the Tigers problems. Quarterback Mike Hoese is extremely mobile and has a strong arm. Running back, Johnny Babaran runs like a scatback at 5’6″ 160 lbs, but makes players miss. Ivan Klaric, at wide receiver, is probably the most talented player on the team and understands the game very well. At 6’1″ and 190 lbs he will give Korea’s corners problems.
The Aguilas defensive line far outweigh the Tiger’s offensive line and could cause problems for them. JP Suarez and Steve Smith (270 lbs) can be an absolute nightmare for quarterbacks, as they are both huge, fast, and smart.
The Korean Tigers enter the contest outmatched in terms of size. Quarterback Gi Seop Yoon is 5’9″ 155 lbs and he too is very shifty, but his offensive line averages 5’9″ 185 lbs and will have to be mobile to withstand the pressure of the Philippine rush. Nevertheless the Tigers experience will be an important factor.
American football has been played in Korea for 50 years and is only now beginning to find its way into the mainstream Korean sport’s culture. There are 32 university teams in Korea, which makes up a formidable foundation for the sport, but none of them are legitimate varsity programs yet. The visiting team, bannered under Korea University, relied on donations from their university alumni network, while some players funded their own trips just to play against the Pilipinas Aguilas.
Chairman of the American Tackle Football Association of the Philippines, Apollo Angco noted that there is a major Korean presence in the Philippines, and the PHIL-KOR Cup is a great opportunity to develop the sport and build relationships between the two countries. He added that as the Philippines continues to fortify its program, the Aguilas they should use international friendlies, like this game against Korea, to measure it’s progress. As Coach Bowlby pointed out, the national teams of both the Philippines and Korea might face each other for the Asian qualifier of the next American Football World Championship, slated in 2018.
Funding for the Pilipinas Aguilas has come from the coaches and players themselves.
Pilipinas Aguilas v. Western Australia All-Stars