x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

US-style football makes a first down in Dubai

Tryouts start next week with first game set for Thanksgiving Day in November

Rex Stevenson will coach the Dubai Stallions, an American-style football team in Dubai.
Rex Stevenson will coach the Dubai Stallions, an American-style football team in Dubai.

For the past eight years, Yunus Sherrif, from India, has thrown an American football around with his friends in Jumeriah, emulating the players they watched on television. So Mr Sherrif, 33, was among the first athletes to sign up for tryouts with the Dubai Stallions, an American football team started by the American Football Academy in Dubai.

The Stallions, already scheduled to play their first competitive game in Dubai on the US Thanksgiving holiday on November 25, are the brainchild of coach Rex Stevenson, 61, an American with 35 years' coaching experience in semi-pro, minor league, youth and high school football. He decided to put together the 45-man semi-professional team with the academy, which has its ribbon-cutting ceremony Monday, to motivate prospective students. The academy started mini-camps for children aged seven to 18 at the Universal American University campus.

Its goal, according to its website, is "to promote youth and amateur sports competing within the UAE and the wider Gulf by introducing young athletes to American rules football". "We are trying to get kids interested at an early age," he said. "Then I figured they need something to do after that, somewhere to go." Mr Stevenson said one of the biggest challenges is getting UAE residents to understand the game. But he believes that with time, just as it took football, or "soccer", as they call the game in the US, a long time to catch on, the reverse can happen in the UAE.

"We are still trying to get it off the ground," he said. "Trying to raise public awareness and support for the programme, because when I go out and talk to people about playing football they have no idea what I am talking about. "I show them pictures with the uniform and helmet and everything and they still think it is some form of soccer. But give it time. Once we get this team going, it is going to generate interest in these younger kids."

Mr Sherrif, a personal trainer at the Emarat Atrium health club, could be among those selected for the 45-man team. "I think seven or eight years I am just practicing, myself and five or six guys, meeting twice a week," he said. "Now I am planning to settle down in the American football." "It's a good game if you have a passion," he said. If Mr Sherrif is one of 30 players aged 20 to 35 selected for the team, he would play his first competitive game November 25 against Team USA Stars and Stripes at the Dubai Sports City Cricket Stadium. Red-and-white uniforms have already been designed for the team.

Mr Stevenson said that team will be supplemented by about a dozen players from the US. Five tryouts are scheduled at the Universal American School athletic field, the first of which is on June 26 at 3.45pm. Players will be tested on strength, endurance and athletic skills. mchung@thenational.ae