Often the QB is the most pivotal player on the field and being an Ohio native, no one knows this better than Adult team QB coach Zac Ritchie. We caught up with Coach Ritchie while he nervously awaited Justin Fields debut in the Buckeyes season opener this weekend.
We are honestly cheering alongside you coach, anyone who has watched the QB1 series has a secret desire to see Spencer Rattler get knocked down a few pegs… I mean, see Justin Fields gain success… yep, that’s the one!
How did you get into American Football?
I grew up in Ohio back home in the USA. Ohio is known for it’s football. It obviously has 2 pro teams, the NFL Hall of Fame and one of the most successful college programs ever in The Ohio State University. Among that it consistently has some of the top High School programs in the country. As a boy it’s kind of anticipated that you will grow up playing the game.
Did you play AF / What position did you play?
I was always drawn to playing QB. Whether it was out at recess with 30 kids running around tackling each other to when I started playing organised games when I was 12
What position did you dream you could play?
I mean it sounds really boring, but I always loved the idea and challenge of playing QB. Outside of that I always thought being a Defensive End would be cool. Just being able to be an athlete and try to pressure the QB and influence blocking schemes was something I still respect very much today.
Why the Exiles?
When I first settled in the UK, years before my wife and I started a family, I was looking for something to do during the winter months and early spring. I often played basketball in my youth, so I got on the internet and looked for a local basketball team to possibly join. During this I found two American football teams, one was called the East Kent Mavericks and the other the Kent Exiles. The thought of playing organised American football again, particularly in the UK, never crossed my mind! I sent an email to the Exiles and the rest is history.
What is your greatest achievement in this sport so far?
My greatest achievements in this game are hard to narrow down to just one. As a player I’ve been very proud to win many games and hold records with the club. There were some amazing come from behind victories, conference championships etc.
As a coach I have also enjoyed being selected to represent GB as the U19 QB coach. But it is as a role of a coach for the Exiles where I have found my most memorable moments that mean very much to me. One, which does span the final years of my playing career, is setting a 5 year mid term goal with Head Coach John Moore to bring us from Division 2 into the top tier of BAFA which we accomplished a couple years ago.
To manage to stay in the premiership in our first year is just as sweet. And
personally, as the clubs lead QB Coach, to successfully place 3 QB’s on the GB squads, 2 of which were starters (James Cook and George Reynolds) and helping George make it to the newly created NFL Academy.
What motivates you to coach football?
The inspiration I see every week from my QB’s. As coaches, we learn so much from our experiences. At the Kent Exiles we have a huge club that covers every age for both men, women, boys and girls.
A few years ago I pitched an idea to the committee to allow me to set up an Exiles QB club that allows any member who wants to play the position to join in and train together as a group. So we have our SR QB’s doing drills next to some of our flag QB’s, the ladies QB’s training next to our U17’s QBs etc. I love it! It is allowing us to grow as a unit, a QB unit, together. We support one another, encourage our development and it allows the younger and more inexperienced QB’s to see how to do a
drill or how to overcome a mechanical issue properly. That’s really important for this position.
I want everyone to understand that it doesn’t matter how old or experienced you are; you can find inspiration, leadership and camaraderie at any age and any level. I also want them to be proud of being a QB at the Exiles, that that means something to them. I now have younger QB’s who are growing up saying they want to be the next George Reynolds or James Cook’s because they have worked next to them. They have seen what a good role model looks like, what hard work can achieve and what it looks like as they are seeing it within their team and position. It’s awesome! Anything I can do to influence others to be a responsible and thoughtful leader is something I am very passionate about. It’s a skill that will take them much further in life outside of football.
What are your goals for the Kent Exiles Adult contact team over the next five years?
Our next 5 year plan is obvious and it’s gonna be difficult. We are laser focused and working flat out to change the narrative of the Premiership south. The usual teams have dominated for years and we understand the difficult road that awaits us. But we fully expect to challenge these teams and fight for a chance at the title. It’s gonna happen. Putting together the coaching staff we have now has been the first step.
We know what it’s like to get hit in the mouth, we’re cool with it. We have proven to be a team that isn’t afraid of the pain and that is not going to just go away. We’re close to our turning point and he believe our ceiling is high. Our staff cares deeply about the success of this club and we want to help players be recognised not only here in the UK but also throughout Europe and in the USA and Canada.
We honestly feel that when you have a passionate staff that works relentlessly towards creating a winning culture and developing quality players then the rest falls into place.
Aside from the Kent Exiles which team do you support and why?
As a kid who was born in Ohio, I am a huge fan of THE Ohio State University and the Cleveland Browns. You can imagine how my weekends hit a high point on Saturday then usually come crashing down by Sunday night! It’s all love though!
If you could have one NFL or college player on your team who would it be?
I would most likely pick a guy like Jason Kelce from the Eagles. He’s one of the best Center’s in the league. To have a smart, consistent Center to lead the big fellas up front is so important.
As a QB I can appreciate this position like no other and understand how they can greatly enhance a team’s production… Plus he’s from Ohio!
What sets AF apart from other sports and why do you think it is growing so well in the UK?
American football is a hard game to play because to be successful you need 7-11 players working as a unit and understanding minute details.
There are not many games that require every little detail to be planed out regarding foot placements, how many steps to take, leverage points, timings, processing schemes etc within 3 seconds, over and over and over. I think players who like the game appreciate that level of organisation and the feeling they get when they achieve the goal of making a play successful. Add to the fact that it needs all types of shapes and sizes, it’s incredibly inclusive! With the amount of money the NFL is
spending over here, social media and the hard work that is going into grass route programs around the country it can only go up in popularity!