One of the most well-respected coaches in the #BritballNation, DC have been privileged to be joined by Coach Ben Herod of the Bristol Academy to head up our U17 and U19 coverage for the 2017 seasons!
Coach Herod brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to our coverage of the developmental aspects of the domestic game, and begins his work with DC by looking at some of the top teams across the nation, and exploring how they came to find such success last season…
Over a decade ago Dave Pester started getting involved in Junior and Youth Football at the Exiles. Working behind the scenes with everything Exile related but making sure things were in place from the youngest age up. There success now is only possible due to his vision and efforts through the past decade.
With the Aztec Junior Team I coached, we would often play Kent twice a year. The games were never close. In fact, the Exiles went through some very lean years. Through all that though Pester kept plugging away strengthening every part of his grass roots programme from the base up. He has had a lot of helpers that have produced a total football program that everyone envied for years, they just couldn’t win games. In steps Coach Aaron Alexis.
Alexis was a great Linebacker for the Exiles. We only crossed paths a few times on the field, but I knew his reputation. I remember our 2006 play-off game when we put up a good score on the Exiles but this linebacker they had was almost singlehandedly trying to keep the score down, racking up over 20 tackles in the process. Certainly, bested my typical 4-5 stops on that day.
Alexis understands the importance of getting this team winning, as they really have everything else in place. It’s correct that you cannot always control the raw talent levels you have, but with solid fundamentals and good recruitment you’ll always be in with a shout. So, he added to his coaching staff, ensuring that he had a coach for every position and asked his players to match their work to improve on and off the field.
“We stepped up on our scouting and our ability to adapt our game to other teams improved, instead of just expecting our talent to match those far more established teams in our conference, I couldn’t ask for a better coaching staff around me” Coach Alexis.
I often wondered why the Exiles were finding it so tough to win before, they’ve always had talent. Jamie Cunningham at Quarterback came through their programme before coming to the PRIDE, and then onto win National BUCS Titles with Hertfordshire Hurricanes. Kadel King as well, who followed Jamie here to the PRIDE before stepping up to Canada Prep and onto St Xavier College in Canada – both represented Great Britain as well! Matt Murphey at Florida Atlantic, via IMG Academy, and Ben Abbott, now winning Premiership titles with the London Warriors, all started with the Kent Exiles.
Alexis had a talented squad last year too. From the speedy Connor Hassan at receiver to James Cook at quarterback, the young Exiles team also had a formidable offensive line with Hamish Elliott standing out in a talented group. Prince Wynter had a good year at running back but Alexis felt his best player was Tom Lee,:
“What he did in the final proved that.”
On defense Alexis was quick to praise the entire unit, and rightly so. They held two typically very high scoring offenses (Blitz & Lions) to just a handful of points and earning them the title of being the number one ranked D in the U19 game.
“Overall we work as a team without relying on any one player. There is a proper team ethic in this club that I feel is the best way of keeping together. They all play, help and work as one team of friends and team mates”.
Well the cat is out the bag now. Everyone knows the Exiles can finally win. Everyone knows they have had the structure to be successful for years. It’s a frightening thought now for the likes of London and Birmingham who were maybe only focused on each other until now. Can the Exiles repeat though?
“This year will be interesting; we’ve lost some really good players. We’ve retained quite a few though and acquired a good number of potentially talented guys… Repeating is going to be a lot harder than winning it for the first time, but in the 3 years I’ve been Head Coach here I always set high targets and they have always been achieved. So, we will be aiming for the title again and nothing less”.
You can quickly see why there has been a turn around in recent years with the Exiles, Alexis’ certainly exudes confidence and the attention put into game planning made the difference in the final, something coach Matt Davies of the Pirates stated;
“The difference in the two teams was execution and decision making within the red zones.”
So is Alexis worried about anyone in the South now that they have won it all?
“It is so hard to predict who will be good with U19 Football. Teams only get a maximum of three years with a player if they are lucky. Well run programs, like Birmingham, are always going to be a team that is battling for the Championship. I hear Solent are doing good things down there too, so we will have to wait and see”.
For 2017 the Exiles are the team to beat. Never thought I would be saying that at U19 Football… But it’s clear it’s no fluke.
It’s so important that those aspiring to get where the Exiles have been realise these things don’t just happen. You don’t just get lucky and have 15 finished players turn up at your door already understanding the sport and playing at a high level. Like the champions before them they have a solid program from flag up through U17 kitted.
They have stuck to their guns that it was the right way to do things under Dave Pester’s guidance. I know he was not alone, and Alexis has made a huge difference. Can they do it again? To me it would be even more impressive if they do. Their rise can only motivate the Lions and Blitz to look at them more closely. It will be tough getting past them both teams two years in a row.