This week, we catch up with Nick Cullen, Running Backs Coach for the Adult Team, to see what preparations are being put into place for the coming season.
How did you get into American Football?
It all started when I was 14 when some friends and I started throwing a football around, which then led to us starting to track the NFL and begin watching games. Soon enough, this lead to playing Madden and NFL-Street non-stop. At that point, I had no idea you could play the game in the UK until one day some Britball highlights came up during the Sky Sports coverage. I instantly went online and found that the nearest team was the Kent Exiles. The next Sunday, there I was, 15 years old running around like a headless chicken!
What position did you play?
I was always quite a versatile player and was able to fill in at a number of positions during my playing days. I’d say I’ve spent most of my career at RB, but I usually moved around the field as more of an H-Back type role, covering RB, FB, TE, WR as the offence needed.
What position did you dream you could play?
I’ve played nearly every position on the offensive side other than QB, but I’ve always dreamt about playing Safety. Great play on the back end of the defence, makes a game incredible to watch.
Why the Exiles?
What started simply due to proximity, has now become home. After playing my Junior playing days with the Exiles, I then went on to play my BUCS Uni-ball with the UEA Pirates. While living in London, I coached the London Blitz Juniors; once my partner and I decided to start a family, we moved back out to Kent. It was only natural to come full circle and return home to the Exiles.
What is your greatest achievement in the sport so far?
I’m fortunate to have quite a few now! Playing – as a Junior I was fortunate enough to represent my country, and at University I’m really proud of the playoff run we made in my final year. Coaching – there’s even more: I’ve got a few National Championship rings from my time with the Blitz Juniors, coaching with the Exiles and winning the Div. 1 South by beating Solent in a monsoon to take us into the Premiership! Then proving our place in the premiership last year. But my greatest achievement as a coach (so far) has got to be coaching the GB U19 RBs – absolutely awesome to represent the national programme and help so many young athletes play on an international stage.
What motivates you to coach football?
I started coaching for one reason – provide the type of coaching I wish I had access to while playing. And while that still drives me, my motivation is so much more now. From helping athletes reach their goals whether it be a physical goal or preparing them to play at an even higher level, to a singular team goal. Which is simple. Change the narrative of the Premiership South and win the National Championship.
What are your goals for the Adult team over the next 5 years?
The team goal is clear. Change the narrative and win the National Championship. For the running backs, my goal is to continue building an elite training environment that helps build and attract the best athletes in the country.
Aside from the Exiles, which team do you support and why?
2004/05 is when all the stars aligned for me and American football. So it was only natural to start to lean towards a team that was getting a lot of exposure at that time – which was the Eagles. From seeing them reach the Super Bowl that year to them being a lot of fun to play with on NFL Street 2, they were quickly locked in as my team. That also then led me to supporting USC for college ball because the Eagles first round pick in 2005 was Mike Patterson, a DT from USC. Not knowing anything about college football at that point, I ended up doing a deep dive on USC and that’s stuck with me ever since.
If you could have one NFL or college player on your team who would it be?
There’s so many players that would be unfair to see play at our level. Imagine a top back like CMC, Henry or Cook playing here. It’d be a blood bath!
What sets American football apart from other sports and why do you think it is growing so well in the UK?
There’s no other sport that’s so inclusive of size and body type. At the younger end of the game, there really is a position for everyone. There’s nothing quite like it in terms of accepting all shapes and sizes and getting you involved. And that’s where the main growth is for the sport – flag, youth and women’s – where the inclusivity is incredible in allowing anyone who wants to, to play sport.
Overall, it’s creating a great young base for the sport to grow. For the Adult side of things, particularly the premiership, there’s now a big step to take with more teams (as we are) treating the game seriously and taking things up a gear. Hopefully investment will follow and we can see more UK teams competing in Europe and wider.