U19 Head Coach Jack Lewis is the newest addition to the Kent Exiles Head Coaching staff and after leading the U17s contact team to a National Championship, we are very excited to see what Coach Jack has in store!
The U19 squad has seen several players receive NFL Academy status and even receive NCAA Division 1 scholarship; our youth programmes are growing from strength to strength. We re delighted to take some time to get to know the man at the helm of youth football at the Exiles.
How did you get into American Football?
My Dad (coach Steve) has been an NFL fan since the 80s, so I grew up knowing and loving the sport from a young age. The older I got, the more and more it became a part of me. I had no idea that it was played in the UK, until I found the Exiles.
Did you play American football/what position did you play?
I played for the Kent Exiles at U17, U19 and then at Adult level. At U17 and U19 I played O and D line, then played defensive end for the adults. I always only wanted to be a Defensive Lineman, but if I’m being honest with myself I was probably a better Offensive Lineman.
What position did you dream you could play?
I would have liked to be a Running Back, but that was never on the cards; I’m too big and slow! I do wish I had tried to be a Tight End. I have always had pretty good hands and scored many points on Centre flips at U17, where the Centre is an eligible receiver.
Why the Exiles?
I went to the Priory School in Orpington, and we had a community event every summer. When I was 13, the Kent Exiles U17 team had a stall there to try and recruit players. It was the first I’d heard of competitive American Football in the UK, and it was so local to me!
I signed up immediately!
At the time you could train from age 13 but had to be 14 to play, so my rookie season was the following year, and I won ‘Rookie of the Year’ for the club. I stuck with the Kent Exiles through all age levels of play, and then moved in to coaching.
What is your greatest achievement in this sport so far?
The 2019 season was my one and only season as the head coach of the U17 Contac team – I had previously spent two years as the OC and a year before that I was the Lineman coach. I had a great team of coaches and players that year, and after years of coming so close we finally took home the National Championship.
I was honoured to win ‘Coach of the Year’ for the Exiles off the back of that season. The award is named after the late Tony Bainbridge who was my Head Coach when I played for the adults, and an exceptional bloke all round. That season was an unquestionable highlight of my life so far.
What motivates you to coach football?
When I was an U17 player, I remember turning up to a tournament with 6 players, fully prepared to lose to the same 2 teams we played every fortnight. To see how much the sport, and specifically this great club, have grown since then is amazing. I have loved being a part of that alongside the likes of Steve Lewis and Bryan Man. I want to keep winning in this ever-growing sport and continue to bring well deserved positive attention to the club.
I’m a teacher in my day job, and I’m motivated by helping young people reach their full potential. I loved school and I loved playing football, but there was no Bristol Pride or NFL Academy. The idea of British kids playing semi-pro in Europe or going to programmes in the States was unthinkable, and there was certainly no homegrown UK talent anywhere in the NFL. Now, all those things are possible for these U17 and U19 guys, and seeing them work towards these dreams and achieve things in this sport is incredibly rewarding. Even players who have no intention of taking the sport further get to be part of a whole different culture of football, with motivated and talented kids playing at a high level and winning championships. It’s amazing to be able to help them achieve these things at a young age that they will always be proud of.
What are your goals for the U19 team over the next 5 years?
I want everyone who plays under me to always enjoy it, always feel like they’re learning and improving, and always feel welcomed and accepted. Beyond that, I want to be a strong contender for a national championship every year, I want to see players that I’ve coached achieve their dreams of playing at higher levels, I want more guys in the Academy teams, more guys going to Europe and the States, and my ultimate goal is to coach a player who ends up at a D1 and even get a player to the NFL. It may not be in 5 years, but I strongly believe that it will happen.
Aside from the Exiles, which team do you support and why?
In terms of the NFL, I was a Washington fan for years but I’ve always been in support of a name change. I’m glad it’s finally happened but it didn’t feel like a sincere reflective decision, it came from sponsorship pressure. On top of that, they’ve been pretty much awful for my whole life, and I hate the whole way the team is managed, so I decided this year to pick a new team. I went with Tampa Bay – I like Bruce Arians a lot as a coach, and I really admire the players they’ve brought onboard this year. On top of that, they’ve got a great logo and kit and a pirate ship in the stadium, what’s not to like!?
If you could have one NFL or college player on your team who would it be?
It will be an NFL player for me as I haven’t followed college football closely enough this year to know who’s looking good. I love JJ Watt (who doesn’t?), because he’s an exceptional athlete and comes across as a great person. He plays in my personal favourite position, but he’s at the later stage of his career. I’d pick a rookie to come to the Exiles so we’d get some years out of him, and my favourite rookie to watch so far this season has been Chase Claypool at the Steelers.
What sets American football apart from other sports and why do you think it is growing so well in the UK?
There’s a position for everyone. If you’re 5 foot 6 or 6 foot 5, 50lbs or 350lbs, you like running away from people as fast as you can or hitting people as hard as you can, we’ll find you a position and you’ll love it.
I personally like the contact elements. It’s a violent sport, but it’s still about technique, control and discipline – it’s similar to martial arts in that way. However at the same time, it’s an exceptionally complicated chess match with so many variables, and you need to really study to be good at it. There’s no sport quite like it, and more and more young people are realising that, which is why it’s still growing so fast!
As more and more people take up playing, coaching, or even just watching the sport in this country…
They should be looking at the Exiles.