Spain: How the Badalona Dracs juniors team can take another step toward a dream a year in the making against the L’Hospitalet Pioners this weekend

Over 45 of the best young American football players in Spain met in Madrid during Semana Santa for a camp and game against Belgium. With 19 players represented, the Badalona Dracs made up the largest contingent of this Spring’s roster.

It wasn’t even a year ago that those 19 players were split up all over the region, playing for separate club teams. The idea for a Catalan “super team” was hatched at a previous Team Spain camp where players from the country’s Northeast corner discussed the national dominance of the Black Demons Juniors team.

In the year since, several of those players teamed up in Badalona where they led the Dracs to an undefeated Junior regular-season record in dominant fashion. Multiple opponents asked for games to be ended early amidst a blowout and another paid not to play them. But while regular season wins are nice, the Dracs Juniors team had always been built for the playoffs.

This weekend, the Dracs have an opportunity to take the next step toward a matchup against the Black Demons in the national finals. First, though, they must beat L’Hospitalet in the Catalan final. Now is when things begin to get serious and the players can’t wait.

“We expect L’Hospitalet to be better than they were the first time we played them, but we also believe we’re way better,” quarterback Pol Singleton said. “Our objective is not only to win but also to go through the plays we need to be ready for nationals.”

Photo: @polcunillera si-us-plau.

Many players on this year’s Dracs team didn’t know one another before arriving in Badalona. Before this season, several played with the Barberà Rookies and Argentona Bocs in surrounding towns.

The Dracs always had an eye on Singleton, the young Bocs quarterback known as one of the better signal callers in the region, at least when it comes to raw traits. Badalona wanted Singleton after his first season, but Singleton decided to remain with Argentona another season.

Unfortunately for Singleton his second season didn’t go according to plan. He started at quarterback, but never felt he learned much about the sport. He was only taught to make the first read and the routes were quite simple. “That guy might be open” was something Singleton occasionally told himself during games that season. The difficult second season opened the door for the Dracs as the quarterback searched for a new team.

Badalona had another advantage, which gave it an edge over other local teams: coach Oscar Pérez. He helped out on Team Spain in 2022 and became a favorite coach for many of the young players who were drawn to his personality and coaching style.

“I had him as a coach on the national team last year and liked him a lot,” Singleton said. “I later learned that I got offered to come to the Dracs and I wanted to take advantage of that.”

 He added: “I always felt [Badalona] was the best place to grow as a player. Not only because of its history and the players, but the staff is also really good.”

Photo: @polcunillera si-us-plau.

The Dracs, at least two players deep at every position, dominated opponents thanks to talent alone, but players also quickly learned that being on a “super team” comes with its own set of unique challenges.

“It’s tough because if everyone comes here it’s much harder to earn a spot,” Eric Ladero said. “But here, even in the junior team, you have to play hard every day and push yourself to the limit just to be a starter and have playing time. That makes us better and closer.”

Another difficult task was maintaining interest and motivation throughout a long season win which there were plenty of practices, but few actual games with none of them being all that competitive. Still, there’s something about the sport that keeps players, many of whom commute several hours a week to and from Badalona, coming back.

“At the end of the day you think of why you’re playing,” Singleton said. “It’s not for these games, but for the national playoffs. There are days you don’t want to come and can’t find motivation, but you just have to push through it,” added Ladero. “We do it because we love football. Almost nobody here is from [Badalona], nobody is obligating us to come here and pay. Everything is out of love.”

Photo: @polcunillera si-us-plau.

When the Dracs Juniors team first came together, not many of the players knew one another. That’s both Singleton and Ladero’s favorite memories this season involve getting to know one another off the field and building a shared comradery, all of which showed when they all traveled to Madrid to compete for Team Spain.

“Everybody here comes from a different team and different background,” Ladero said. “When we first started nobody knew each other, it was a little difficult. Then through playing we shared a lot of moments and we see each other every day. We’re family now.”

Closer than ever, Badalona is ready for the season’s intensity to rise. If they can get past L’Hospitalet in the regional final, the Dracs will likely face Madrid Rivas Osos in the national playoffs before a showdown against the Black Demons in the final. Reaching that final game was always the goal, a thought that came to life during a previous Team Spain camp and brought several young American football players together in the first place. In the coming weeks, that group of players have an opportunity to turn that dream into reality.

“Everyone on the Catalan team came here to make a super team to win the national tournament,” Ladero said. “Now comes the hardest part of the season.”