Blitzing across the pond

Jessie Larouche
By Jessie Larouche March 24, 2023 11:34

Blitzing across the pond

By Kameron Seguin and Jessie Larouche

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With three people in the stands, players change on the sidelines, not a locker room in sight. Players are still arriving just 20 minutes before the game – not in uniform – looking like they just came from the pub.

There’s no sense of team as players are stretching on their own, divided into social circles instead of position groups. The whistle blows and a professional football game is about to kick off in the United Kingdom.

No, not the football that immediately comes to mind when the United Kingdom is brought up. This is American football across the pond. Growing up in the United Kingdom, the most watched sports are either rugby or soccer. At least that’s how it used to be.

About 10 years ago, the NFL made a push to grow the game by gaining viewers from across the world. It worked, inspiring two United Kingdom-born teens to pursue their newfound love of playing the game, which brought them to Canada.


Growing up in South London, Olamide Adegbite had to keep his head on a swivel. Before leaving the house, he’d double-check to make sure the door was locked, put on his headphones and start walking to school. On the way back home, he’d hurry back before it got dark, knowing that’s when the trouble began.

“Drugs, stabbings, all of that goes on,” said Adegbite. “If you had guns back home, you would do some serious time. That’s why you see stabbings happen more often. People even throw acid in people’s faces.”

Knowing he wanted something bigger, he played sports and dreamt of being great. He started with rugby, loving both the physical and team aspects of the game. But one day, he was introduced to a new game. One very similar to rugby but much more foreign to him: American football.

“Growing up, you’d see highlight reels on Instagram, movies like The Longest Yard, but I never really watched the game,” said Adegbite. “Around where I grew up, no one really did, but then the NFL academy came around.”

At age 17, he saw an ad online for the NFL Academy, offering education and training in football. He did not know much about the game, so he searched for videos online and instantly fell in love. Players like Von Miller – who specialized in coming off the edge and terrorizing the quarterback – ignited something inside of him.

“I was watching videos online,” said Adegbite. “Watching Von Miller really got me into it. I knew I could do that.”

He decided this could be a great opportunity, which prompted him to attend the combine with 3500 other people who shared the same hope: joining the academy. Out of the 3500 football hopefuls who were put through the demanding combine, Adegbite was one of the 80 allowed to join. It was only his first time putting the pads on and playing, but he was already in love.

“I was intimidated when I saw the numbers, but I just put my head down and worked,” Adegbite said.

After spending two years at the academy, he then went on to the University West of England, where he would continue playing to gather more film to send out to scouts. Flashing by offensive tackles with his speed, finishing plays with aggression and having a high motor all led to scouts taking notice.

“The way I played there, I knew I had a shot,” said Adegbite. “It was just a matter of who and when, because there are not always people scouting back home.”

His team went on to win the national championship, where there were more fans and scouts watching than at any point in the season. This was the biggest game of the year, and Adegbite did not disappoint.

His play gained interest from not only local teams, but a college from Windsor, Ontario. All the way across the pond, teams were taking notice. St. Clair College offered him a chance to come play football, and with the support, resources and exposure he knew was available in Ontario, he wasted no time jumping on the opportunity.

Adegbite was officially a St. Clair Saint.


Being 6’5and 345 lbs, Ezzat Elnagmi had the perfect build for an offensive lineman. But growing up in the tight-knit Easton neighborhood in Bristol, he had no way of knowing that. Soccer dominated the area when it came to sports, but Elnagmi knew he didn’t have the stereotypical build of a soccer player so he played rugby instead.

“Growing up, it was rugby for me,” said Elnagmi. “No one my size is running around for 90 minutes on a soccer pitch.”

He played rugby for five years, holding his own and developing skills he’d be putting to use in another sport very soon. He was 20 years old and had never played a single down of American football, only seeing videos online and never watching a full game.

That is until Lester Hopewell came around. Hopewell, head coach of the Leicester Falcons, noticed his size and athletic ability and needed to have him on his team. He immediately approached Elnagmi and told him he should give football a shot.

“One look at him and you can see it,” said Hopewell. “He has American football written all over him.”

Considering how big of a competitor he is, Elnagmi was enamored by the suggestion and showed up to practice for the Leicester Falcons. He instantly became a student of the game and fell in love with the sport. Not only did he enjoy it, but he was naturally gifted at it as well. He knew this was something he wanted to do for a long time.

“I’m so thankful for him,” said Elnagmi. “Without him, I wouldn’t be here today.”

After just one season playing for the Falcons, he already had eyes on him from bigger teams and was being recruited by the head coach of the University West of England, Daniel Maher. Not even a full year after learning about the game, he was already playing at one of the highest levels in the United Kingdom.

“It gave me a real confidence boost,” said Elnagmi. “This just confirmed I made the right choice.”

Multiple changes of scenery in a short period of time can sometimes be overwhelming for a 20-year-old. Thankfully for Elnagmi, he had support from someone who did it himself not too long ago. Veteran offensive lineman Jake Sugget took him under his wing, teaching him proper techniques on the field, how to study film off the field and giving him the mental support needed to take his game to the next level.

“It was such a blessing,” said Elnagmi. “I was only 20 at the time, so having someone to be that big brother figure was huge.”

After being a standout for yet another season on the offensive line – this time for the University West of England –  it solidified his feeling of belonging even more. He was officially in his groove after being a student of the game for just a year.

The university went on to win the national championship, with Elnagmi being a key factor on offense that season. Not only was he one of the best players on the team, but one of the youngest. His potential in this sport was huge and he was beginning to notice it.

He certainly wasn’t the only one who noticed his potential, though. Another college across the pond did as well. St. Clair College had gained interest in his play, reaching out to him to see if he’d have interest in suiting up for the Saints. The decision was an easy one to make.

“With the Canadian Junior Football League (CJFL) being tied in with the Canadian Football League (CFL), there’s a lot of exposure,” said Elnagmi. “My goal is to go pro, and you need the right support and exposure to do that.”

With his mind made up, Elnagmi confirmed his commitment and said his goodbyes. He was officially making the biggest leap in his life thus far, heading to Canada to become a St. Clair Saint.

Olamide Adegbite (left) and Ezzat Elnagmi (right) standing in front of the flag of their new home for the upcoming years. Photo by Jessie Larouche.

The Ups

A worry for many when traveling to a foreign country is the cuisine. One can never know what to expect. Upon arrival, Adegbite and Elnagmi made a stop at a McDonald’s, where the portion size of the large meal put them in a trance.

“The drink was the size of my head,” said Adegbite. “It’s at least three times the size of ours in the U.K.”

A drink the size of their head, double filet-o-fish and enough chips to feed two. They thought to themselves that this might not be that bad after all.

After the local portion size gave them a morale boost about leaving friends and family, they then saw the facilities they would be using in person for the first time. An athletic complex with weights, treadmills and basketball courts. A stadium with a turf field, lockers with their names on them and stands bigger than high school bleachers. A team where everyone has matching helmets and uniforms made to fit properly, a clear contrast to the atmosphere in their hometowns.

“That’s stuff we just don’t have access to playing back at home,” said Elnagmi. “You won’t find any team weight rooms, our fields are just repurposed soccer pitches and most fields don’t even have locker rooms.”

Finally, unbridled access to all the little things they needed to bring their game to the next level. They now knew they made the right decision to leave home, erasing any of their remaining doubts.

Although they had to leave friends behind, their upbeat personalities and skills on the field would soon lead to them having at least 50 when they stepped on that turf field. A team a lot of times is like a band of brothers when the right guys are together and they did. Every puzzle piece fit together perfectly to create something magical.

“What we have is like a little family away from home, it’s nice to know you got guys who have your back,” said Adegbite.

Going to the school basketball games, heading downtown and even driving around with buddies showing them rap from the United Kingdom through the auxiliary cord strengthened their bond with teammates. Both Adegbite and Elnagmi admitted being able to have that bond with teammates makes the transition so much easier when away from home.

The Downs

Moving to another city can be a difficult change, let alone moving to a whole new continent. Everything is different; the culture, the food, the music. It’s not only about physically moving to another city. The trouble lies in leaving a whole life behind.

The convenience of having a parental figure to seek advice from is gone. There are no siblings to share stories with.

“It’s been tough because I’ve never been away from family like this,” said Adegbite. “Thankfully though, technology gets better every day and I’m able to FaceTime them.”

Even if they are able to connect online with loved ones, being across the world in different time zones can make it difficult as they are four hours apart.

“I’ll be getting ready for class and they’ll be heading to bed,” said Elnagmi. “Trying to find a time where we can have some time and talk is pretty tough. They’ll stay up early to get in touch or I’ll wake up earlier.”

The Season

Coming to a new team, one doesn’t know what to expect. Playing with players who are unfamiliar, not knowing the playbook and not knowing the competition can all affect even the most consummate of professionals. For Elnagmi and Adegbite, this was not an issue.

Both of them had just started playing less than two years ago and were already standouts on the gridiron. Adapting to new areas wasn’t an issue for them. They had experienced it before and were ready to do it again.

The season kicked off at home, and the crowd was the biggest they had ever played in front of. Feeling the atmosphere of the Saints nation and capping it off with an 82-0 beatdown on the Quinte Skyhawks made it a day full of smiles for them.

“I was looking forward to going through the season and continuing to win,” said Elnagmi. “It definitely made me feel like I made the right decision.”

Continuing to win as he had hoped, the Saints followed it up with another 80-point performance just two weeks later. The team was firing on all cylinders and looked to be unstoppable. The league took notice, ranking them among the top in the country, not just restricted to the CJFL rankings.

They ended up sweeping the season, not losing a single regular season game. Both Adegbite and Elnagmi held their own as well, being starters throughout the year and making big plays in important games. They went into the playoffs with home-field advantage and earned respect from the rest of the league.

Come playoff time, the team did not slow down. They made easy work of their opponents, shutting out the GTA Grizzlies 62-0 in the first round. The Saints then shut out the Hamilton Hurricanes 44-0 the very next week.

“We were unstoppable on both sides of the ball,” said head coach Mike Lachance following the win over Hamilton. “To go eight quarters without allowing a single point is special.”

The team had punched their ticket to the CJFL championship against the London Beefeaters, who the Saints had lost to in the finals one year prior. The game was set to be a grudge match, with both teams knowing each other all too well.

“You could feel it going into the game,” said Adegbite. “I think the fans were just as hyped as we were.”

St. Clair won the game in convincing fashion, beating London 38-7. Elnagmi and Adegbite were champions once again, two trophies in less than a year’s time. It was safe to say that they had made the right decision in giving the sport a chance.

Along the way, they’ve made great friends, adapted to new settings and learned countless life skills. They have won trophies and put their names out there.

They will both be back in yellow and green next season as they continue to add to their film collection and chase their dreams of going pro. St. Clair will be going into the season next year with a target on their back in the CJFL after last year’s performance, and Elnagmi and Adegbite are ready to do it all over again.

Jessie Larouche
By Jessie Larouche March 24, 2023 11:34

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