Monday, 18 February 2013

Neil Edwards returns to the London Olympians

NEIL EDWARDS has returned to the London Olympians, where he will use his vast experience - including playing semi-professionally in Germany and participating in NFL Europe training camps to coach the club's defensive backs.

After playing as a junior with the Finsbury Park Stallions and London Capitals, Edwards joined the Olympians in the early Nineties and won national titles with the O's, Farnham Knights and Coventry Jets as well as overseas with the Landsberg Express and Stuttgart Scorpions.
He has learnt from some impressive names, including Jeff Reinebold, who last year worked under the Chicago Bears' new head coach, Marc Trestman, as defensive coordinator of the Canadian Football League's Montreal Alouettes.

“Before I flew out to NFL Europe camp in 2001, [Olympians head coach Riq Ayub] set up a meeting with me and him and and he told me what was expected of me, what I was going to be facing and broke down things for me,” Edwards said of his time with Reinebold, who is a regular on Sky Sports' NFL coverage and is now special teams coach of the CFL's Hamilton Tiger-Cats. “He kept an eye on me and told me how I was doing in terms of my progression.”

Now Edwards is back with the South London side and is eager to pass on his knowledge to the next generation of the 13-times champions of Britain.

“I'm a quite quiet person, but I've always found my feet on the football field,” Edwards said. “I used to like to speak to the younger guys and get them motivated, because I felt, especially as a lot of us guys are from inner London, a lot of things could get you to go the wrong way.
“I always felt American football helped keep me on the right path, so I always said I'd like to come back and help, probably with the Olympians, and help pass back some of what I'd learnt along the way back to some of the younger guys, to help keep them doing something positive in their lives. Riq and I met up and spoke about things and here I am.”

Edwards said his experiences in Germany, where he worked with several American pros taught him to “dig deep” and is convinced his new charges have the talent to play the game at a high level.
“The talent level in Germany isn't different to here, but the difference is, at the time, it was quite similar to how it was in the early Eighties in England,” Edwards explained. “There was a lot of money in the league, there were a lot of sponsors, so what they were doing was going out and getting a lot of talented players from the American college system, guys who had missed out on the NFL Draft, or guys coming off the NFL Europe season.

“The guys were doing what I'm doing, working with a lot of the German kids and everyone was stepping their game up.

“A lot of people ask me what the difference between the American players and the players over here and what I've noticed is it's the belief. A lot of people call Americans arrogant, but it's their belief in how good they are, when they step on the field they take it personally, so being alongside them I thought I had to step up.

“In my first game I said 'OK coach, what do you want me to do?' and he said: 'they've got an American receiver they've just brought in from NFL Europe. You've got him. Don't let him score.' That was a big responsibility on your shoulders. There was a big crowd, money invested in you. It wasn't a matter of 'Oh, I'll see how I do today', the pressure was on and I find with pressure you can either sink or swim and sometimes this can help you find that extra mile.

“Everyone has that extra reserve in them. This is what we try to do with the guys, try to get them to push through when they're tired and get them to dig deeper. I've had game where I've had to dig deep to pull out the win when we've been behind and that's one of the things I learnt when I was over there.”

Edwards has been working with the Olympians for the past few weeks and recognises the physical skills are there and, with the team now practising three times a week and with a residential camp coming up, the new environment is one in which the players can thrive.

“What we tended to do in the old days was turn up on a Sunday and bang heads,” Edwards said. “We knew how to play football, but we didn't know how to do the things surrounding football to make ourselves better and I think a lot of the coaches, especially the coaches down here now, have instilled in the guys what they have to do outside of football to be the best player you can be on a Sunday.

“What I'm seeing now around the league is how much preparation is put into the guys and what they do now before they turn up; not just about going to the gym, but getting some sprinting work done, plyometrics, eating a bit better, all of the things that, back in the Eighties, passed us by.
“The guys themselves also know much more about the game, they are able to access things on the internet and on TV, so they're a lot more wiser about the game whereas we just knew about the basic things.

“We found our feet along the way but I think things have got more intricate now, more analysed and I think that's helped them to become better players.”
Now Edwards' task is to help his players “live and breathe” the game in their quest for another title, which begins in April.

“Some of the guys don't realise is that it's the little things,” he said. “Like when they are being taught the individual steps you need to become a better player and when they go back to the team situation it gets forgotten and they revert back to their natural instincts.
“What I'm finding my guys are picking up on is keeping the little things going, even when they're at home.

“I always remember walking around my house in a funny way, to keep my feet going in a certain way, because that's how I was on the football field and I couldn't break out of the habit because I instilled it in myself so much.

“That's what Im trying to get over to the guys so that they live it and breathe it. When they start to feel it, which I think they are, they are starting to feel the connection between what we do in practice and taking it over to when it's real.

“The guys are physically able and have great attitudes, now it's just the nurturing. They're getting there and I've been really impressed with them over the past few weeks.”

And with defensive back being one of the most unforgiving positions on the field – one mistake can lead to a long-range touchdown from the opposing team – Edwards is keen that his players learn from their errors.

“I was always taught as a DB that you have to let the last play go, but it was also instilled in me that you have to take things personally,” he said. “Once you start to take things personally, you won't let those mistakes happen as often, or ever again.

“Things happen. I felt that I was classed as one of the top safeties in Europe going into NFL Europe camp, but I still made mistakes and I was able to learn from them and minimise them.
“It's about recognising what you did wrong and saying: 'OK, that's not going to happen again'. That's what I feel I can bring to these guys: recognising what you do well and recognising what you badly and keeping those to a minimum.

“I think once you can do that, you'll become a good player.”

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