x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Emirati American Football League finds their Mr Relevant

Andre Sommersell signed on as a Dubai Stallions coach when the EAFL and led his team to the Desert Bowl, where the Stallions lost the title to the Abu Dhabi Wildcats 21-12. This season, Sommersell plans to serve as a player, too.

Andre Sommersell, once known as  " Mr Irrelevant" for being the last man selected in the 2004 NFL draft, is now very relevant as player-coach with the Dubai Stallions in the Emirates American Football League. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National
Andre Sommersell, once known as " Mr Irrelevant" for being the last man selected in the 2004 NFL draft, is now very relevant as player-coach with the Dubai Stallions in the Emirates American Football League. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National

The anticipated phone call never came, so a slightly disappointed Andre Sommersell had already hopped in his car and was heading off to find a few of his Colorado State University teammates.

Sommersell, a senior defensive end on the school’s football team, believed he would be chosen in the fifth round of the 2004 National Football League draft, but after hours of watching television, it did not happen, so he decided to go congratulate a couple of players who had been selected.

“Then my roommate came running out of the house, his hands over his head,” Sommersell said.

“He said, ‘You better get back in here, now’.”

Not only had Sommersell been selected, he had achieved one of the quirkiest distinctions in all of sport – his name was called by the Oakland Raiders with the last selection of the entire, 255-player draft, a player annually known as “Mr Irrelevant”.

Sommersell, the coach of the Dubai Stallions of the Emirates American Football League, who begin their second season at 6pm tonight against the Al Ain Desert Foxes, has a Wikipedia page as proof of his pedigree.

“It’s a little incorrect, but that’s OK,” he said.

The best bits require no editing or embroidery.

For those unfamiliar with the Mr Irrelevant backstory, and that is assuredly a large group, it has grown into the stuff of cult-classic, football lore.

In 1976, a group in southern California began what has developed into a tongue-in-cheek but kindly procession for the player chosen with the last pick.

Better still, Sommersell attended high school in southern California and was the first local player to be honoured, which made him an ever bigger celebrity.

“Everybody knows the name of the guy who was picked first, and he gets all the attention,” Sommersell said.

“They decided to do something nice for the guy who is picked last.”

The Mr Irrelevant pick each season is the focal point of a week-long celebration, culminating with a formal awards banquet where the winner is teased relentlessly by guest speakers and handed one of the funniest items in football, the cleverly titled Lowsman Trophy.

Visually, it is similar to the famous award given annually to the best player in US college football, the Heisman Trophy.

However, the player depicted on the Lowsman is, drum roll please, fumbling the ball.

The trophy winner also receives several gag gifts. One local police chief issues an invitation for a white-tablecloth dinner — at his jail facility.

Oddly, that prize is never redeemed.

Sommersell, now 33, did not make the Raiders’ roster but played alongside some famous names in training camp, including Warren Sapp, Charles Woodson and Jerry Rice, the greatest receiver in NFL history.

He did play the 2005 season in the defunct NFL Europe league for the Berlin Thunder.

Sommersell, who is married and has lived in Dubai since 2009, works for a business-development company. He signed on as a coach when the EAFL was formed last year and led his team to the Desert Bowl, where the Stallions lost the league title to the Abu Dhabi Wildcats 21-12.

This season, Sommersell plans to serve as the amateur team’s player-coach, which ought to make the league’s ball carriers very nervous.

Forget being one of the few American athletes in the UAE with a Wikipedia page attesting to his renown — no other EAFL player has been drafted by the sport’s top league.

It is a safe to say that none of them could bench-press 370 pounds, run 40 yards in 4.52 seconds or possess a vertical leap of 31.5 inches, which were Sommersell’s verified pre-draft statistics in college.

“That energy to play came back,” Sommersell said.

When the EAFL season begins Friday night, he will be relevant, indeed.

THE CLUBS

Abu Dhabi Wildcats

Last season 6-0

Coach Charles Gillespie

Players to watch

The Wildcats won the first Desert Bowl trophy with a 21-12 victory over the Dubai Stallions last spring, thanks in large part to a huge performance from the running back/defensive back and Miami native Vivaldi Tulysse, who was named the league’s most valuable player. Linebacker Ryan Michalenko, who played college football in Canada, was the league’s leading tackler last season.

Dubai Stallions

Last season 4-2

Coach Andre Sommersell

Players to watch

The Stallions had the league’s best defence last year – a fact that seems unlikely to change. Sommersell, a former Oakland Raiders draft pick at defensive end, will contribute as both player and coach this season. A fellow American with football and rugby experience, Markus Morton, is expected to make an impact. The linebacker Ziad Choueiri was the team’s best defensive player last year. The quarterback Chris Wentzel is the league’s best passer.

Dubai Barracudas

Last season 1-5

Coach Kyle Jordan

Players to watch Canada’s Ian Caron is an interesting double-threat player. He lined up at linebacker and quarterback last year, and an injury in the third week put a big dent in the team’s hopes. The defensive lineman Montasir Adeeb led the league in quarterback sacks last season. The receiver Daniel Viranyi was named the league’s top offensive player after catching four touchdown passes last year.

Al Ain Desert Foxes

Last season 1-5

Coach Lee Valdez

Players to watch

Suliman Gaouda, who plays at defensive back and receiver, might be the best Emirati player in the league. His fellow wideout, Kenny Smith, ranked among the league’s top receivers last year and is back for more. Coach Lee Valdez is from Texas, where they practically breathe football. The Desert Foxes surrendered 132 points last year, by far the most in the league.

selling@thenational.ae

Follow us on twitter at @SprtNationalUAE