Under19s | Junior Season Incoming! Division One North Preview

It’s fair to say it’s been something of a bumpy road to the Under 19 and Under 17’s seasons – we’re still not able to share a full schedule or information about which teams are definitely in what conference/tier for either the ‘youth’ or ‘junior’ formats of the British game…

But what we DO know is that the U19’s season kicks off this Sunday, so we better get crack-a-lacking in previewing what lies ahead for the new top tier of the Under 19’s game!

Our new U19’s team will take a peek at each of the teams and players we should be keeping an eye out for this season:


Birmingham Lions:
Photography (C) Andy Neale, Whizzyfingers Photography – facebook.com/Whizzyfingers

The Birmingham Lions concluded their 2017 season on a high note, winning the National Plate Final. Despite this, those involved in the programme were unsatisfied, as winning their first Britball title had been the plan all along. The 2018 season is no different, with Head Coach Greg Cross maintaining this lofty ambition.

Coach Cross, and the rest of his extensive coaching staff, certainly have the foundations in place to make this dream a reality. Undefeated in the regular season since their inception in 2014, the Lions have consistently excelled, and produced top-tier players to cement themselves as one of the premier programmes in Junior football.

Whilst Birmingham have lost some exceptional talent, such as QB Rohan Sandhu and Emmanuel Bawa, their impressive youth team, alongside a close relationship with the University of Birmingham setup will certainly help ease this transition. Wide Receiver Ben Murphy and Corner Jimmy Watkins will hope to bring their experience of the University game to the Junior league, whilst Quarterback Luke Fearn takes Sandhu’s mantle, hoping to further his predecessor’s successes.

East Kilbride Pirates:
Photography (C) Samcrow Lee

East Kilbride Pirates have come a long way in recent years, turning a mediocre programme into a perennial powerhouse. This has been particularly evident the last two years, in which the Pirates have made back-to-back Britabowls. The Pirates will certainly be hoping that they can recreate this for another year, and perhaps even go on to win it all!

A big reason for EKP’s strength is their Head Coach, Matthew Davies. Since taking on the role, Coach Davies has proved one of Junior football’s premier coaching talents, consistently bringing out the best in his players, and fitting the scheme around their talents.

One such talent is Quarterback Sam Montgomerie. The All-DC selection returns for another year at the helm, and will hope that with another year of experience and growth, he will be able to improve yet further. Having such an excellent signal-caller will certainly stand the Pirates in good stead for the year ahead.

Manchester Titans:

By Bruin White

Photography (c) Chris Miles, via facebook.com/pg/manchestertitans

HC Jonathan Homer states the Titans are aiming to ‘win everything’ this season after narrowly missing out on the Northern Trophy to Highland last year, 18-15.

Boasting an experienced roster with only 3 true rookies to the sport, Manchester will be utilising offensive weapons QB Ben Miles, alongside GB under-19s RB Rueben Quinn-Williams and 2017 All-DC pick, WR Lewis Parker, to build on their 2017 campaign which saw the Titans accrue more points than any other team in the Northern Division.

Likewise, a defensive squad including DL Vonte Glinton, LBs Michael Tomlin and Ryan Weaver and DB Josh Knott will look to replicate last year’s ‘Big Blue Wrecking Crew’, who conceded only 28 points across 6 regular season games – a stat the Titans led the league with last year.

With things looking up, the Titans unquestionably see themselves as contenders this year – but with East Kilbride and Birmingham now in their division, the journey to Britbowl won’t be a walk in the park.

Highland Wildcats:

By Bruin White

Photography (C) Anita Crant, via facebook.com/highlandwildcats

Coming off the back of a narrow win over Manchester in the 18-15 Northern Trophy thriller last year, which earned them the #3 spot in the North, the Wildcats will be looking onwards and upwards in 2018.

It is clear that Head Coach James Hudson is looking to win the conference this year, as the team is doing well for numbers, making them more comfortable than last season.

The group will exhibit a strong core of Offensive Linemen, lead by 2017 All-DC Ally Gibson alongside teammates Hamilton and Macintyre – all linemen in their last year of junior eligibility – as well as many graduating youth players who’ve made a comfortable transition into the full-sized gridiron.

Whilst this year’s Britbowl is very much in the sights of the consummate Highland roster, their real focus is on themselves and on playing high quality ‘ball in the BAFANL – something unaffected by the prestige of other teams.

The team’s biggest challenges to their division title aspirations are clear: the East Kilbride Pirates, a side they are scheduled to play three of their six regular-season games against, and the Birmingham Lions – an addition to the Northern Division this year.

Playing in a division with the #2, #3 and #4 ranked teams from last year, the Wildcats’ road will be a bumpy one.

Chorley Buccaneers:

By Jack Stodel

With the ultimate goal of the Britbowl, the Buccaneers will look to cause problems for any team that suits up to play them this season.

After talking to Head Coach, Ian Nicolson, it was immediately apparent that they are a very confident team with high aspirations who have “low number but massive heart”.

When asked about the most difficult opponent of the season, Chorley seem to think that Highland will be their greatest challenge this year. They will look to GB Lions Tyler Harvey-Fallows, Nath Groom & Jak Mallord along with the other talent on the roster to lead them to victory, and go all the way to a championship.

Nottingham Caesars:

By Jordan Fearon-Lee

Photography courtesy of Nottingham Caesars Juniors

After coming off one of the most successful seasons in their history posting a 6-0 record, the Nottingham Caesars recognise that they will struggle achieve the same success in 2018. This doesn’t mean they will back down easily however, with Head Coach George Lees stating,

‘I’m looking forward to seeing what we can achieve this season.’

The Caesars have aimed for a 3-3 season, due to a large influx of rookies entering the team. Because of this, the Caesars have a virtually new offence. This will be lead by 2nd-year player Alex Stocks, who transitioned to QB after playing WR the previous season.

The defence, although changed, remains similar to last year. This will certainly lift the Caesars’ morale as they boasted one of the better defences in the league, conceding only 38 in the regular season. Therefore, Linebackers Rayan Amari and Bradley Martin will be expected to lead this defence and replicate last years success.

Coach Lees told DC to ‘watch out for a number of players this year.’ This included returning linebacker Bradley Martin, Cornerbacks Luca Melero and Benjamin Conley, Offensive-lineman Jordan Fearon-Lee and Nottingham Trent Receiver Paul Watson.

With Fearon-Lee and Conley making the GB U19s Team, the Caesars will look to them to help the team fight for a playoff spot. However, Coach Lees recognises the pair can’t be the only catalyst for the team this season.

‘The club is incredibly proud of what they have achieved. Ultimately though it’s a team game and if we don’t play as a team we’re not going very far.’

With a tough schedule ahead Coach Lees told us,

‘We will take it one game at a time, leave it all out on the field and play with no regrets. All we can ask of our players is they give it their all and we take it from there.’

Merseyside Nighthawks:

By Bruin White

Image may contain: one or more people, people playing sport, american football and outdoor

Merseyside are hoping to develop from last year’s 1-4-1 campaign. Following a close loss to Chester on the road and a tied game with Chorley last year, the Nighthawks are “focusing on one play, one quarter, one game at a time”, said Head Coach Rich Merrick.

“The division is looking competitive, so I think every game will be tough”, he tells DC. “We just want to focus on the process and play great football”.

Asserting great individual talent, despite the loss of All DC wide receiver Sam Parks, it would be remiss to rule out the Nighthawks from having a virtuous run in 2018.

The team are looking forward to the season and it will be good to see how they fare.

Chester Romans:

By Ryan Duff

Image may contain: 7 people, people smiling, people playing sport

Following a middle-of-the-pack 2017 season, the Romans look to improve in their third year in the league.

With QB Sid Wright, RB Sam White and Safety Will Flanagan all missing the second half of last year due to injury, it will be interesting to see how Chester can build upon their 2-4 season with a roster back to full strength. The offence, particularly, will be worth keeping an eye on, as prior to his injury Wright led the O to an average of over 30 points per game.

Wright, White and Flanagan re-join an experienced team lead by 3rd-year players Samir Patel, Rhys Ellis and Cai Danks, and a strong Line built around Jacob White and Ryan Edwards, who will also be playing in their third year of Under-19 football.

The Romans will also benefit from a number of young players stepping up from an Under-17 side which, despite a disappointing 2017 campaign, made an impressive 12-0 run just two seasons ago.

Head Coach Will Sargeant is optimistic for the upcoming season, asserting that ‘if we work hard, there is no reason we can’t be in the mix for a Bowl Game this year.’

 

Impact Players to look out for:

Michael Wathen, Linebacker, Birmingham Lions:

Wathen proved a nightmare for opposing offences last season, combining great physicality with sideline-to-sideline speed. Drawing on his experience playing DB at the youth level, Wathen also covered opposition weapons with aplomb. His ability to take away the run and the pass in equal measure makes him one of the most valuable defensive players in the league.

Jordan Fearon-Lee, O-line, Nottingham Caesars:

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Fearon-Lee makes an impression before he even steps on the field. The 6’6, 290 lbs behemoth looks every bit the pro lineman, and he keeps the impression up on the gridiron too. After a rookie season where he dominated his opposition, Fearon-Lee decided not to rest on his laurels. Instead, he upped his gym regime, and looks to be even more impressive this upcoming season. It seems to have been effective, also, with him making the Great Britain Under 19s squad.

Ben Miles, Quarterback, Manchester Titans:

Miles is the first quarterback that we have mentioned as an impact player, and this speaks volumes of the young signal-caller’s talent. An exceptionally polished passer in any regard, that he has managed to accomplish this at such a young age is incredibly impressive. In such a run-heavy league, having this elite passer could push Manchester over the edge, bringing the whole programme to the next level.

 

A matchup to remember

East Kilbride Pirates vs Birmingham lions

A key matchup to look out for comes early in the season, when EKP face the Lions.

Both outfits had exceptionally strong 2017 seasons, with each falling only to the eventual Britbowl winning London Blitz. Whilst both have lost impact players, they also each boast one of the strongest youth setups in the country, and so there will be no drop-off in talent.

This matchup, which was sorely missed on last year’s schedule, could be a potential title decider, despite being each team’s first game of the season!

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