“The board is set, the pieces are moving. We come to it at last… The great battle of our time” – J. R. R. Tolkien
On Sunday 12th April, we will finally begin our long awaited season with a home opener against the Torbay Trojans!
Kickoff is 2.30pm and full address details are available here.
In the build up to this season there has been tons of changes behind the scenes with new management and a reinvigorated approach to American Football in Oxford…
Beginning training in late November, the Saints opted to hire a excellent 3G Dome facility. This proved hugely popular with the returning veterans and new recruits, allowing smooth and comfortable training in a professional environment without the threat of flooded pitches.
In the build up to the first session, we undertook an extensive recruitment strategy as we aimed to raise awareness of American Football in Oxford and attract new talent from the local area. We enjoyed great success in this area and had over 50 new players showing up to each rookie training session.
As training in the 3G Dome progressed, we didn’t experience the usual drop off and were thrilled by the number of rookies who stuck with the sport.
2015 has been an impressive recruitment year not just due to the rookies, but also the experienced players who have decided to sign with the Saints. Amongst their ranks are TE Laurent Antoine from France, WR Antonious Athanasiou from the Shropshire Revolution, TE Rich Bloomer from the Solent Thrashers and a number of other players with previous experience at either the senior or university level.
Oxford Saints Chairman Martin Fitzpatrick said:
“Amateur sports clubs like ours live or die based on whether we can attract and retain players, and it wasn’t that long ago that due to injuries and dwindling player numbers, we took a squad of just 25 players down to Cornwall to play the Sharks.”
“Things were looking pretty grim. We were literally one injury away from not being able to field a squad and there was a definite threat to our ability to maintain the longest running club in the UK.”
“We’re now bringing over 60 registered players into the 2015 season, including a number of new players and experienced veterans who have decided to join us from other clubs… So keep an eye out for the new faces, make lots of noise and most of all, enjoy your day with us!”
Oxford Rugby Club and Roger Hedges
To kickoff the 2015 season, we have relocated the match to our old home ground at Oxford Rugby Club.
Not only did Oxford RFC host the Saints for many years, but it is also home to the memorial bench for our General Manager Roger Hedges, who passed away in 2007.
Roger joined the Army at the age of 18 and spent nine years travelling the world. He then went on to join the police, and became known as the tallest officer in the county, standing at 6ft 8in tall!
A week after Roger passed away, the Saints hosted their old rivals the Sussex Thunder at Oxford RFC.
Both teams observed a minute silence before the game and the Saints were presented with a game shirt from Sussex which had been signed by everyone at their club in respect of Roger. After a close fought game, the Saints came out on top with a 24-21 victory over the Thunder.
The Saints are honoured to play at Oxford Rugby Club again, as it plays a significant part in our club history.
Before kickoff we’ll be holding a moment of silence for Roger and his daughter Kelly Hedges will perform the coin toss for us.
Roger’s daughter Kelly, a keen supporter at every game, said:
“The bench is there because that is where his heart is. The Saints were his life. He’s near the sideline, facing the sun and near the bar!”
One of the main focuses will inevitably be on rookie Quarterback Ben Denton, who will be playing his first regular season game at the position. Although a keen enthusiast of many sports, he previously played the role of kick returner and cornerback for the Saints. His first big trial was in our pre-season match up against the Sussex Thunder and you can read the game report and view highlights here.
Going into the season opener this weekend, the Saints offense has faced a major overhaul. Oxford is well known for it’s hard hitting ground game and running the ball is a particular strength for us due to an array of talented running backs.
To compliment this further, new offensive weapons have been put under Denton’s remit for 2015. A group of experienced tight ends, wide receivers and promising rookies will bolster the Saints offense further.
The Saints offense is commanded by Head Coach Andrew Day (aka Snake), a retired Saints veteran with a wealth of experience in the UK game. Working alongside Andrew is coach Michael Price as Offensive Coordinator, another retired veteran with lots of playing experience, and Coach Mikey Janes who has joined as an assistant coach for 2015.
Quarterback Ben Denton caught up with us after the pre-season game against Sussex:
“It was a great feeling to step out onto the field with the offense for the first time.”
“We had already done most of the hard work; on the muddy practice field, in the gym and through hours of studying the playbook and game film, so it was great to get out there and execute.”
“I thought offensively we played pretty well, despite some simple mistakes (and personal ‘teething pains’) that we can put right in training.”
“When everything clicked we were able to move the ball with ease on a very good defense. I felt like this game was incredibly useful to everyone involved, despite the score at full time, and can’t wait for Torbay on 12th April.”
Moving onto the defense, a large number of talented rookies will be serving alongside the experienced veterans. Middle linebacker Graeme Taylor has transferred from the Edinburgh Wolves and will likely be making his first appearance in a regular season game for the Saints.
Rookie defensive-end Conor Whitehouse with his towering 6′ 7″ build will be experiencing his first season playing senior football. Coming from the Bournemouth University Bobcats, Whitehouse will be looking to contribute to the Saints defense and make his mark.
A great number of rookies will afford the coaching staff more flexibility and it will be exciting to see how these new players develop in their first season.
The Saints defense is led by Defensive Coordinator/Assistant Head Coach Nick Wykes, who is a retired Saints veteran and also Head Coach for the Oxford Brookes University Panthers.
Alongside Nick is Defensive Line/Linebacker coach Greg Kennedy. He has experience playing and coaching in Canada and is entering his 2nd season with the Saints.
The defensive backs are led by coach Andrew Peart. Although Andrew has not been a player himself, he is a keen student of the game and has proved an invaluable asset and has had a large defensive back corps to work with for 2015. He is also entering his 2nd season with the Saints.
The Torbay Trojans
Devon’s only senior American Football team, the Trojans travel to Oxford for their season opener on the back of a steady pre-season which culminated in a recent mini camp with the South Wales Warriors.
Head Coach Stephen Jones is confident saying:
“The pre season preparations have been building nicely for the first game at Oxford. We are doing lots of good things and are now building the consistency we need to beat well established teams like Oxford. While I have not competed against Oxford since 2004 when I was the OC for South Wales Warriors, the Welsh were victorious that season and I look forward to renewing competition with such an established club”
“The Trojans pre-season has gone well, the new coaching group have integrated rookies and managed the change in playing personnel well and we now have a good mix of experienced players with promising rookies eager to show the talent they undoubtedly have.”
“All three phases of the team have been revamped and we are expecting to continue getting better and have fun finding out how far we have traveled during the pre-season”
Jones continues “We do have some links between the teams as the current Offensive Co-ordinator for Torbay is Lydon Best-Ward who is an ex-Oxford player of many years.”
“I am looking forward to seeing our players in action in a competitive game, we have lots of talent and the schemes to take advantage of that talent, we plan to grow during the season and be competitive from the first game, in our second season back in the BAFA National Leagues, I am excited at the prospect.”
Alongside the Saints and the Trojans, there will also be a third team on the field…. BAFRA. The British American Football Referees Association is charged with providing experienced and professional officials to ensure the rules are enforced and games are played safely.
BAFRA’s delegation to the Saints on Sunday will also include Susannah Taylor, who kindly did a interview with us about her experiences and passions with refereeing American Football. You can read her article and learn more about the excellent work BAFRA does here.
The NFL recently announced the appointment of the first regular season female official, and therefore it is very rewarding to know that BAFRA are not falling behind in this regard and we hope the ever growing participation of women in American Football continues to grow, in all areas of the game.
Counting down to Game Day!
During these last few days the team is resting, studying their playbooks and hopefully hitting the gym! The Saints coaching staff continue to work tirelessly and there is plenty of training and game footage being broken down and evaluated.
Using Hudl, the online video coaching tool, all our players are able to watch footage of how they performed at each practice session and receive vital notes and instructions from their positional coaches.
Hudl has become a big part of our 2015 preparation and demonstrates that as a club we are committed to providing a atmosphere where new and experienced players alike can learn and improve their game!
We hope to see strong support on our sideline this Sunday and it’s looking like we’ll be having some brilliant weather…
So why not come on down, grab a beer and some food from the bar, get the sun cream out, and prepare for a afternoon of Saints Football!
Click below to view full details of the 2015 schedule: