Local coaches going long

Two instructors from Calvert County are in group teaching the game to kids in Europe

Youth football

June 22, 2008|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,Sun reporter

Greg Horning had always wanted to spend some time in Europe, but high school football assistant coaches who have two kids either in or on the way to college usually have to settle for a trip to Epcot Center, as opposed to the real thing.

But there was Horning the other day, rushing for Dulles International Airport in Northern Virginia for a couple of weeks on the continent, though his time there will hardly be recreational.

Horning and Jim Esposito, who coach offense at Northern High in Calvert County, have been selected along with four other high school and college coaches to take part in a tour of Denmark, France, Great Britain and Sweden through July 6, where they will instruct European youth and junior-level coaches on how to teach American football to kids.

For Horning, even the prospect of all-day classroom and drill sessions could not take the luster off a chance to sell football to a foreign audience.

"The opportunity to go to Europe is a once-in-a-lifetime thing," said Horning, who will coach quarterbacks and wide receivers on the tour. "I've got a passion for coaching. I love to teach people things and I love to teach youth, and I love the game of football."

The coaching tour is an outreach of USA Football, which governs the game on a youth and amateur level in this country, as well as the International Federation of American Football, which sponsors and promotes the game worldwide.

Steve Alic, a USA Football spokesman, said that while this marks the first time an organized coaching tour has gone to Europe, American football has been played overseas for years and is played in 50 countries on five continents - not counting the NFL's former sponsorship of a European league, as well as the league's exporting of exhibition and regular-season games to Europe and Asia.

Alic said the tour's goals are modest - "You're not going to snap your fingers and have 25 Europeans fill Big Ten football rosters" - but could pay off in terms of helping European coaches make American football a viable alternative to traditional sports. Approximately 97 foreign-born players were on NFL training camp rosters last year, according to league statistics.

"In Europe, it's been taking very good athletes from soccer and rugby and teaching them football as we know it," Alic said. "Now, the focus is to develop the game on a younger level, so a youngster grows up playing the game and has a greater understanding of the game. It's more growing something rather than transplanting it from another garden."

Americans might see the fruits of these labors as early as next summer, when the IFAF will sponsor an eight-nation junior American football championship tournament at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. Ten players from each state and Washington will be nominated for the U.S. team, with a roster to be selected next spring.

Esposito, who will teach offensive and defensive-line techniques in Europe, said he expects the level of play among the Europeans he encounters to be like that of club ball - which probably means he will have to go all the way to the genesis of football techniques, the three-point stance.

"I think they are very far behind, and they welcome any opportunity to get people over there to show them drills, to talk to them about fundamentals," Esposito said. "We're going over there with the attitude that we're going to take it from the beginning. I can't wait to get started."

milton.kent@baltsun.com

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