Updated: Wednesday, 22nd January 2020 @ 3:27pm

Touch down! Meet the Bolton lad set to represent Britain at American football

Touch down! Meet the Bolton lad set to represent Britain at American football

| By Nsofwa Kangwa

The rise in popularity of American football has seen some of the country’s prized talent proudly represent Great Britain around the world.

With clubs like the Manchester Titans offering budding quarterbacks the chance to try out their football skills, it’s no surprise that local fans like Bruce Sibanda are finding themselves playing internationally.

All while doing their A-levels.

For the past five years Bruce, 19, went from searching for local clubs online to being part of a 45-man squad representing his regional team and the country in the under-19s European Championship.

“It was my cousin who initially got me into it, he played for his university team in 2009,” Bruce recalled.

“He came home one day with all his kit and I was intrigued.

“At that moment it [American football] was getting really big because it was the first time the Superbowl had been aired in the UK and a lot of people jumped on the bandwagon after that.”

HEART OF A LION: Bruce (no. 53) was playing with 18-year-olds when he was 14.

At the tender age of 14, the former Canon Slade pupil took curiosity into his own hands and approached his local team the Northwestern Bulldogs.

“I did a little research and found the Manchester Titans and the Northwestern Bulldogs.

“The Bulldogs were a closer team so I went there but at the time I was just 14 and they told me that I couldn’t play games but they trained me up so that when I turned 16 I would have a head start.

“So when I was 14 I was playing with 16 and 18 year olds.”

Like many year 11 boys, Bruce was studying for his GCSEs.  At the time he found that coordinating his exams while training was a struggle but he admits that it is tougher now that he’s doing his A-levels.

The Bolton 6th Form pupil, who’s studying maths, accounting and computing, said: “At the time I was doing my GCSEs it was quite easy to juggle it because it wasn’t as demanding.

“But it has become a lot harder due to the fact I'm doing my A-levels and there’s obviously a lot more work to be done.

“I think I’ve managed to do well considering all the training that I’ve done.”

On Saturday, the defensive linesman will join 44 other sportsmen bidding to play in the IFAF men’s under-19 European Championship when the GB Lions take on Russia in a qualification game.

Should the Lions win, the squad will advance to each one of the two qualification tournaments’ groups of four nations.

Then from Friday May 8 through to Sunday May 10 the team will fly out for the next qualification tournaments in Denmark.

With ambitions of taking his new-found hobby to the next level, after completing secondary school the unwavering teenager decided to travel 150 miles to enroll at Filton’s College American Football Academy.

It was at the Academy where Bruce was given the opportunity to rush past opposing players from across the pond, giving him a more authentic feel for the game.

“My parents were pretty shocked when I decided to go to Bristol but they were supportive in everything that I did,” Bruce admitted.

“It was quite different because the teams that we played were the fully-fledged American students and the level of play was a lot more intense, so I had to readjust to that.

“The first season I did quite well. I was on the field quite a lot and I was put on rotation.”

However after two years at Filton, Bruce’s stint at the college came to a premature end when he suffered an injury that left him with no other choice but to return home to live with his family in Bolton.

Needless to say, this minor setback didn’t stop the A-level student from pursuing his touchdown dreams.

CATCHING THE EYE: Bruce (right) was scouted for Team GB at Salford City Reds' AJ Bell Stadium and hasn't looked back.

And it was only a matter of time before the Zimbabwean-born sportsman was training with the Manchester Titans, where former notable players included Slick Semper, Anthony Bingham and Ashley Dewing.

It was here, at the Salford City Reds stadium, that representatives from Team GB scouted Bruce back in March.

“I just came to training as usual and went through the regular drills and then half way through the training session the coaches pulled me to the side and introduced me to the special teen coordinator for Team GB,” Bruce recalled.

“They told me that me and a couple of team mates were invited to come to the trial that was coming up.

“I was pretty excited because I’d previously gone to the open trials, made the first cut but didn’t make the second — this was the first time I’d actually been scouted and recommended by a coach so I was pretty happy when I was told.”

Once winners of each of the two-qualification tournaments’ groups are established, the Lions will advance to the final tournament seeding which is set by the IFAF Europe Tournament Committee.

The squad that is made up of 45 players, aged between 15-19, was once 75 but was whittled down after a range of training camps and trials.

As it stands, the under 19s represent 17 different teams from across the country including the Manchester Titans, Birmingham Lions, London Warriors, Filton Pride and East Kilbride Pirates.

If the team plough on through to the final tournament, they will compete with rivals in Dresden, Germany between Thursday June 25-Saturday June 27.

Speaking of his future career prospects, Bruce said: “As of now I'm trying to get into a university in the US. Hopefully I can get into a division 1 school, the schools that hand out scholarships.

“I never thought it would come to this, everything just started to play at the right time and I’m grateful for that.”