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KM Media Group journalist Alex Hoad, attending NFL Regional Combine in New York City in February, gives a guide to American football in Kent

16 January 2014
by Alex Hoad

Alex Hoad

Alex Hoad

As one final shot at making it as a professional sportsman, I am participating in the NFL’s Regional Combine in New York City next month - a sort of audition for a contract with one of the 32 pro teams.

In the second of a weekly series charting my progress towards NYC I’ll tell you more about the sport of American football, how it’s growing in the UK and where you can enjoy it, as a player or spectator, in Kent.

One accusation often levelled at American football is that it is complicated. There are countless rules, confusing terms and numbers floating around everywhere.

Trust me, if you can get past the initial ‘shock’ phase when confronted by the game, whether in person or on TV, then it is simple.

Ok, here goes. There are two teams, playing on a field 100 yards long. Each team has 11 players on the field at any moment and boasts one squad for offense and another for defence. 

The aim of the game is for the offense to move the ball down the field and score points. They can do it either by running or throwing the ball into the 10-yard ‘endzone’ for a touchdown or if they can’t make it far enough then they might settle for a field goal - a kick from distance between two upright posts.

In very simple terms it’s like rugby with less flow to the game.

While the offense are trying to score, the defence are trying to keep the other team as far away from the endzone as possible. If they prevent the offense from getting close enough to score a field-goal - generally the halfway line - then their reward is to get the ball themselves.

So how do teams move the ball? Well by running with it or throwing it. When they receive the ball, a team gets four chances to move the ball 10 yards down the field. These chances are called downs. If the offense successfully moves the ball more than 10 yards then they get a new set of four downs. If they do it again, they get four more, and so on. If the offense fails to make it 10 yards then they have to either attempt a kick at goal or return the ball to the opposition - generally by punting it as far down the field as possible. Still with me?

Alex Hoad

Alex Hoad

If you are, then good, that’s pretty much all you need to know to follow a game. But if you want to play it competitively - or dare I say, even professionally - then a little more info can’t hurt.

Each of the 22 players on a field at any one time will have a specific position. In a regular game of football you’d have two goalkeepers and maybe four or five central defenders among the 22 playing, but on the field in American football there will probably be at least 18 people with a different ‘job title’ 

You’ve probably heard of a quarterback, they are the ones that wear cool jackets and get the girls in Hollywood, but, unlike in football when a brilliant striker or midfielder can pretty much win a game on their own, a QB’s teammates are just as important to the success of their team.

In New York I am ‘auditioning’ to be a Tight End. Don’t laugh. My two main strengths are that I’m big and I can (generally) catch. A TE is the only real multi-purpose position on the offense, and their job is to either provide a target for the QB to throw to to try and gain yardage up the field, or to ‘block’ defensive players from tackling an offensive teammate with the ball.

In the next few weeks we’ll look at what skills you need to play the game and how to keep in shape to give you the best chance of success.


The UK has a thriving American football scene with thousands of players involved every weekend.

The British American Football Association national leagues features 60 senior teams playing in six divisions while even more teams play youth (14-17), junior (17-19) and flag (non-contact, five-a-side) football.

Vernon Kay

Vernon Kay

American football is also one of the fastest-growing university sports in the country, with the British Universities League boasting more than 60 teams and 3,500 players and coaches from 46 countries around the world. 

Super Bowl-winning Brit wide receiver Marvin Allen plays for the BAFA Premier giant London Warriors, for whom TV presenter Vernon Kay plays on defence.

There are three senior teams in Kent.

The East Kent Mavericks finished fifth in the Premiership South last season. They will hold rookie days in Ashford on January 26 and Aylesham on February 2, with another planned in east Kent on February 9.

For more information on the club visit email or call Glenn Lindley on 07725 696949.

Maidstone Pumas, formed in 1987 as a youth side, play in National South Central division and are also holding sessions for new players early in the new year.

Visit or email for more information.

The National South Central Kent Exiles - who rose from the ashes of Tonbridge Tigers in the late 1980s - now play at Orpington RFC.

Visit or email for more information.

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