It’s third and fifteen with ten seconds on the clock. The Gloucestershire Gladiators are down by four points against Bristol Barracuda and Gloucestershire has the ball on the fifteen yard line. The ball is thrown by the quarterback Daniel Vickery to 6’4, 180lb, wide receiver, Steven Cale who snatches the pass out of the air for a walk-off touchdown to win the game. American football is the fastest growing sport in the world, in England it is burning like fire. Players like Steven have taken this fresh sport on board and leaving a trail of fire behind them (quite literally if you see Steven sprint).
From humble beginnings in the English town of Aldershot, Steve spent his childhood always being the sporty kid at school. He was a typical English boy. He played football, tried rugby at school and he even performed at athletics with medium distance. It made him the athlete he is today. At age 14 his medium distance running coach didn’t attend training so he joined his brother in sprinting. Steven then became a county sprinter just like that from one session. His English football career struggled to take off, while at Chelsea football club academy when he severely tore his anterior cruciate ligament, but it shows his reliance to come back and try and create a career out of a different sport. His district level football skills have developed him in most positions to prepare him for the American variant. He played goalkeeper becoming a master with his hands, and he played midfield where his stamina allowed him to dominate possession. His sprinting career allowing him to master his routes as a receiver today.
‘I’ve followed the sport since 2003, I always said I would love to play that sport one day, but I never did, I came to university and the platform was there and I just had to take it’, Steven says about how he go into the sport. An avid Tampa Bay Buccaneers fan, he followed the NFL team after their Super bowl victory in that same year. He let himself develop before taking up the sport, his old goalkeeper at Chelsea took it up and he wanted to join him but never had the confidence. However, at the University of Gloucestershire the opportunity fell on his lap when his flatmate decided to also take up the sport. ‘We played it while down the park and we met two of the Gladiators players, they were so welcoming I felt a part of the family from that point onwards’.
On a warm night in Gloucester I watched Steven sprint his routes in American football wearing his number 88 jersey for the Gladiators, he catches any ball with breeze. He knows the game in the short time he’s played it. I asked him what’s next after university and after the Gladiators, will it just be forgotten and will he get on with an ordinary job? ‘Not a chance’ he sternly replied as he caught another ball after running a slant route. ‘I have two options, I can go to Bristol where I can learn from the best as they are the third best in the country, I want to stay in this area anyway. Also I could go home and play for the Farnham Knights who won the top division in 2013’. He comes across as someone that has set a goal for himself that he must achieve, it’s not just a game to him, he wants to take these opportunities and strive for success.
‘AJ Green, man I looked up to him from the start, I studied him for two months straight.
He was skinny like me and lanky, but he was quick and that’s how he beat defenders by getting away from them and I knew I had that skill set to replicate’. It’s the Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver that was Steven’s inspiration from day one. He knew he had similarities to the NFL star and he wanted to be like him, so this has driven him to really take flight under the Gladiators and soon play in a division above when he does make the switch.
Team GB that’s where the epitome of American football is played for English players. You want to be able to represent your country and play with the best. Steven is underway putting together his application for the team that involves many interviews and pro days as well as plenty of highlights of him playing. ‘I want to impress the people at that higher point, where I can be taken to a higher level, maybe the NFL’. He’s not stupid to set his sights so high. More and more European players are making that transition. Look at German Wide Receiver Moritz Boehringer who was just drafted by the Minnesota Vikings to play for them, his only experience was the German league, no collegiate background and he made it. With similar skill sets Steven wants to replicate this.
At this level of American football celebrations are frowned upon for their lack of sportsmanship, you look across the pond to the NFL and the celebrations are what we see on social media. Short vines of Odell Beckham Jr dabbing after a touchdown. I gave Steven the opportunity to have the perfect celebration in the perfect situation, scoring a touchdown to win the super bowl again for his team the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. ‘I’m not much of a dancer, so maybe none of that. I’m quite a simple guy so I always loved when an English football team’s crest would be on your heart and you beat it to show that universal respect, well I would probably do the same. Just that feeling would be exhilarating. Maybe throw a dab here and then if I’m feeling like it’.