Pupils are seeing stars and stripes after the Scottish Claymores dropped by to promote American football. Roddy Mackenzie reports
Chasing the American dream was an unlikely option for Scottish school pupils five years ago. But since the Scottish Claymores touched down in Scotland in 1995 to play in a new professional American football league in Europe, more and more youngsters are "padding up".
Scott Couper, as a receiver with the Claymores, has already lived the dream. The Glasgow-born player had played the game at amateur level in Scotland but has gone on to be a mainstay with the Claymores - and scored a few touchdowns - and has also played as a guest for top American side Chicago Bears in an exhibition game in Ireland.
Now, he is playing his part in ensuring that others get the chance to break through into the professional game. Along with former Claymores' player Ben Torierro, he has travelled extensively throughout Scotland, spreading the word and holding coaching clinics in schools and local sports centres.
Last year, a new development squad was set up which will help identify the best young talent in the country. The Claymores have kitted the squad out and there have been opportunities for the players to work with the team's American coaching staff.
Although the days of a Scottish player playing in the National Football League in America are still some way away, there is now a process where the best young players can at least achieve their potential.
A current member of the development squad - Stirling's Jon Sutherland - made a considerable impact when he attended high school in America in 1998 and played for Team Europe against the USA, Canada and Panama in the Global Junior Challenge before this year's Super Bowl in Atlanta.
Sutherland also played for Team Europe in last year's win over Mexico as a prelude to the Super Bowl and this year will display his talents in front of some of the top American scouts as well as Dan Reeves, coach to the Atlanta Falcons, who is honorary chairman of the tournament.
It shows what can be achieved but the Claymores and Couper are now looking at developing talent as early as primary school age in their grassroots programme.
An important part of the programme is to coach teachers how to teach the sport as Couper readily admits that many see the sport on television and decide it is too complicated or too expensive.
The Claymores are taking some of the cost out of it by providing starter packs to schools ad youth teams who want to set up or have already set up a leaders' course for teachers and coaches.
"A lot of focus is on educating the leaders so that they have the knowledge to coach the basics.
"The leaders' course is the first level of the coach education programme which is run through the British American Football Coaches Association and is approved by the National Coaching Foundation (NCF)," said Couper.
"There is also a level two award and teachers can progress to this module but it looks more in depth at the sport.
"A lot of leaders and teachers did not know these sorts of courses are available. When some people watch the game on television, they assume that it is a complicated game but this takes it down to basics. We want to put the fun in the fundamentals."
Youngsters do not play the fully kitted sport but rather a non-contact version - Flag Football - and the Claymores run a national flag football youth league.
This is the inaugural year of an international flag football tournament which will seek to find a world champion by July. Preliminary rounds will be held in Scotland this month and it is anticipated that around 20 teams will take part in the Scottish competition. The Scottish champions will then face the English champions to earn the right to represent the UK at the European Championships on May 13. The finals will be held in America in July.
It is all about making opportunities available in a bid to globalise American football. There are now opportunities existing that did not when Couper was at school.
"Basically, if we get a call, we'll put on a course in any part of the country," the player states. "We have involved P6-P7 kids but it is more tailored towards S1-S2 at secondary school.
"I never touched an American football until I was 15. But now I look at kids in the development squad we have at the Claymores and they are better than I was at that age.
"Nothing would give me greater pleasure than when I stop playing to see someone come through the ranks to replace me."
Presently, the Claymores are focussing on around 20-30 schools in the central belt and one of the most enthusiastic participants is Jordanhill School in Glasgow.
The Claymores put on a presentation to PE advisers at the end of October in Linlithgow and, according to Couper, had a "great feedback".
The next logical step is to get the sport on the school curriculum and the Claymores and Couper will continue to work towards that goal.