This week, we steal some time with Special Teams coach for the Adult team, Priyank Patel. With often only one shot at a play, we get to know the man behind what is an essential tactical element of the Adult game…
How did you get into American Football?
I got into the sport by chance; one day I was scrolling through channels and stumbled across an NFL game on Sky Sports and gradually started to watch the game more and more. Initially, I was fascinated with the idea that the routes being ran were all part of a pre-designed ‘play’ and that the job on defense was to come up with a play of their own to try and stop the other team. This underlying tactical battle being played out on the pitch was what originally drew me towards the sport.
Did you play American football/what position did you play?
I went straight into coaching, starting out as an assistant for my university team, the City Wolfpack. The thought of playing doesn’t really excite me, so I went down the coaching route instead and never looked back.
What position did you dream you could play?
Offensive or Defensive Linemen would have been great. Growing up I was always one of the smaller kids, so I wish I had the size and strength to be a game wrecker in the trenches.
Why the Exiles?
Initially I joined the Exiles because I was looking to continue my coaching development at a senior team and my University Head Coach, Adam Lillis, who is now the Offensive Coordinator at the Exiles, was a player here and put me in touch with John Moore. From there Coach Moore said there was an assistant coaching position open.
After that I have always loved being a part of the Exiles. There is a strong family culture within the club that resonates with me because all club teams are willing to help and support each other to help the whole club grow. Overall, as a club, I feel like the Exiles are at the forefront of helping the game grow in the UK across a range of different formats which is so important to the sport in the UK.
What is your greatest achievement in this sport so far?
Winning the Division 1 National championship in 2018 as a part of the Leicester Falcons. To achieve something like that as part of a great team in my first year of coaching was amazing. The final itself was against the Exiles for whom I had started the season as an assistant before transferring and finishing the season back home in Leicester. Coaching in the final against so many of my friends and mentors was special for me, a day I will never forget.
What motivates you to coach football?
My passion has always been sports but I was never the most physically gifted and that is what drives me to be the best coach I can be to my players. Every player is a key part of this team with a role to play and as a coach I am trying to help the players realise that. My goal is always to help each individual player reach their full potential as a player and then help show them how the role they play is so important in the team’s overall success.
What are your goals for the Adult team over the next 5 years?
The goal for the Adult team in the next 5 years starts with the 2021 season and it starts by changing the narrative of the Premiership South. Time and time again we have seen the same few teams dominate the league and our goal on the Adult team is to challenge those teams for contention for the title. After seeing the strides made as a coaching staff and as a team, I’m confident we will be able to do exactly that. Past that, we want to build on our 2021 and continue the success that I know we will have.
From a Special Teams point of view, our goal is to prove that Special Teams is must see Football. The view in Britball seems to be that Special Teams (ST) is not as important or exciting as Offence or Defence and we’re going to change that misconception by proving the importance of ST within the game and by showing exactly how exciting and innovative different phases of our game can be. I’ve said to the players before that I want the fans that come to our games to recognise them for their positions on ST so that would be a great goal to achieve over the next 5 years.
Aside from the Exiles, which team do you support and why?
My NFL team is the San Francisco 49ers, simply because I have family there who are huge Niners fans so that is the one team I have a connection with. I was lucky enough to go to Levi’s Stadium last year and watch a couple of games which was a great experience.
If you could have one NFL or college player on your team who would it be?
I’ve got to go STs with this question, but I like our kicking and punting prospects so give me Matthew Slater from the New England Patriots. While some may pick a QB or stud DB, I would love to have an NFL player on our team who understands the importance of STs.
What sets American football apart from other sports and why do you think it is growing so well in the UK?
For me, the inclusivity of Football sets it apart from other sports. We have players of different sizes with varying skill sets all playing on the same team and I don’t think any sport offers that, so it makes sense that the game continues to grow. The NFL London games are becoming a bigger part of the British sporting calendar and I am hopeful that the continued interest in the sport will see the game grow even more in the UK.