An American footballer from Streatham is hoping to be the next British import into US college football after training with the UK’s best at the NFL Academy.
Peter Clarke, 17, joined the London-based NFL program having played flag and contact football with Croydon’s London Warriors from the age of 11.
Now honing his skills with some of the best coaches and facilities the UK has to offer, Clarke is preparing to make the leap to the next level of the sport.
He said: “When I was told I had been accepted it was just a blessing.
“It gave me the opportunity to express myself on the field and take myself to a new level.
“On the field we have lifting sessions every week, training sessions every week. We all share one common goal of getting 1% better every day.
“If it isn’t a training day then you’re in the classroom – it’s about bettering yourself in every way. We hold each other accountable, and the expectations are high.”
The NFL Academy may still be in its early stages, having opened in September 2019, but the players and coaches behind it are showing no lack of ambition.
Representing the country’s most promising American football talent, Clarke said that the pride in pulling on an Academy jersey outweighs any pressure put on himself and his teammates.
“I wouldn’t say pressure, it’s a privilege to represent the UK and the NFL academy. Not everybody gets to do that,” Clarke added.
“When you wear the logo and you are part of the academy, you’re not just a football player, you represent the UK American football scene.
“You have to not just take your game to the next level on the field, but off the field go to class, be respectful, go to character development and hold yourself to a new standard.
“The atmosphere and the bond you build with each other is like nothing I’ve ever experienced. You’re one big family.”
At the reins of that family are a team of coaches committed to driving the growth of American football in the UK while forging a path for scholarship offers across the pond.
“The work the coaches put in here is extraordinary,” Clarke continued.
“The efforts they go to for us, we match on the field for them. It’s something I haven’t experienced with coaches before. Every day you see them make sure you’re on top of classes, performing well in training, giving positive feedback.
“You learn a lot off the field here as well, life skills that you wouldn’t get anywhere else. It’s not just us developing as football players but us developing as people.”
The NFL Academy’s formula is already showing signs of success, with graduates such as Seydou Traore and Darren Agu recently committing to play Division 1 college football for Arkansas State University and the University of Notre Dame respectively.
Whether it’s from his predecessors at the Academy or big-name players in the NFL, Clarke has found inspiration at every turn and is determined to make the most of his opportunity.
Clarke added: “Everyone here no matter if you’re defence, offence, tight end or linebacker, you’re friends and beyond that you’re brothers who look out for each other.
“When you see someone that has gone to college and done this and that, it inspires you to go do the same, if not better.
“I try to look at the greats and adapt what they’ve done into my game. Rob Gronkowski, he’s obviously a beast. Kyle Pitts, he’s going to get drafted today.”
With the NFL Draft taking place late that night and hundreds of college players seeing their NFL dreams become reality, I asked Clarke if he considered taking a night off of his grind to follow the action.
“Not me,” he replied.
“I’ve got to wake up at 5am for lifts.”
Photos courtesy of NFL Academy