Dreams of gridiron fame

17th October 2003 at 01:00
David O'Rourke plans to go back to the country where he was born to pursue his ambition to be a pro in American football. He talks to Roddy Mackenzie

David O'Rourke, like many schoolboys in Scotland, harbours dreams of playing at Hampden Park. However, unlike most, the 16-year-old is intent on pursuing his American roots and gracing the national football stadium in a Scottish Claymores shirt.

The sixth-year pupil at McLaren High in Callander, Stirling, was born in California and moved to Scotland at the age of two. He achieved five Higher grade passes last year and will complete his final year of schooling at Black Hawk High in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania, next year, intent on furthering his American football education. He leaves in June.

His father, Tim, is an American and introduced him to the sport six years ago. It began casually enough by tossing an American football around the back garden.

David went on to join the North Lanarkshire Rams and now is a member of the Scotland and Great Britain junior teams. However, the best opportunities for him to develop his potential fully lie in the United States, where he hopes to graduate through the American college system. He is almost 6ft, about 12 stone and wants to make his mark in the glamour position of quarterback.

"The ultimate dream would be to play in the National Football League and I'm under no illusions about how hard that would be to achieve," he says.

"There are only two routes to go if you want to play as a professional, either through the American system or playing for the Claymores in Europe and hoping that an NFL team picks you up.

"I'd love to come back and play for the Claymores once I get enough experience. I have seen how good the reception is for national players at Hampden when they run out for games."

None of his school friends plays American football and twice a week he faces a 45-minute journey to training in Cumbernauld with the North Lanarkshire Rams. Sometimes only six of 25 players turn up for training, he says, but he knows life will be very different in Pennsylvania.

"In high school over there, the facilities will be first class and I will be training six days a week and then have a game at the weekend," he explains. "It will be very intense and I will be expected to turn up for practice every day.

"I've worked with the Claymores' American coaches and they have a strict regime. They can be pretty brutal but it's because they have to drill it into you.

"Just now, I'm working on my speed. I'm getting my rate of interceptions down. Quarterbacks have to be mobile and I'm practising running with the ball more."

David owes much to the Scottish Claymores and their national coach, Steve McCusker, who regularly work with Scotland's most talented young players, widening the base of national players.

The NFL Europe league is actively attempting to raise more home-grown players after the future of the set-up was discussed at an NFL owners'

meeting in Washington last month. The league - and effectively the Scottish Claymores - have been given another two years to prove American football can work in Europe.

Ken Margerum, who spent five years with the Chicago Bears including for the Super Bowl win in 1985 and two years with the San Francisco 49ers before becoming the offensive co-ordinator with the Claymores last year, believes attitudes have to change if the sport is to have a future here. He also believes changes need to be made at school level if Scotland is ever to produce a talent base for the NFL in future.

"There might be some talent in Scotland that could play in major sports around the world but there isn't the avenue to develop the skill," Mr Margerum says.

"I was surprised to learn that we didn't even have a lined gridiron field for the Scottish players to practise on. With a soccer field or a rugby field, you don't have the yard-markers, so it's difficult for players to practise on."

Mr Margerum has been impressed with the commitment shown by youths at development days, with 50-60 players regularly practising with the Claymores' development squad.

"You can see in their eyes that they're addicted to it and the physical contact involved," he says. "This all has to start at youth level. It has to be established over a generation, where kids get into the habit of going down to the park on Saturday and Sunday and picking up an American football and playing catch.

"There's a deep-rooted problem here with after-school sports programmes for primary schools, public schools, private schools and colleges and universities. I was extremely surprised to find out there is no organised after-school programmes in various sports that are run by the school.

"I remember that when I was five years old, when the bell rang at 3pm, I'd sprint to put on my shorts and T-shirt and shoes for some sport, whether it was track and field in the spring, basketball in the winter or gridiron in the fall. That's just the way you grew up and it needs to be addressed at a very high level in Scotland."

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