American football popular among students: team formed at SZE

Széchenyi István University has a new addition to its range of sports activities: from February, students have been able to attend American football training sessions. The popularity of the sport in Hungary is also shown by the fact that many people applied to the announcement, and 20-25 people are currently attending the sessions. This is a positive sign for the future, as the ultimate goal is to create a student team that can test its skills in the still nascent University League.

"Our original idea was to spread the sport as widely as possible, and to do that we need to be present at the universities" - said Attila Baldauf, board member and youth coach of the Győr Sharks American Football SE, explaining why he contacted Széchenyi István University. "In Debrecen, a university sports department has been established, and in Szeged, the link between the local team and the university is getting stronger. The team from Miskolc started in the fourth division and there were also trials at Óbuda University. Why should Győr be left out?," he asked.

The idea was followed by action, and after some organising in February this year, training sessions for students were announced. Although they feared a low turnout, the concern proved to be completely unfounded: more than thirty students signed up – and most of them did not drop out after the first training sessions. This is a good indication of the sport's popularity in Hungary, where more and more people are now watching and playing American football.

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The American football team of Széchenyi István University with American players. Attila Baldauf on the right (Photo: Csaba József Májer)

"It's more than encouraging for a start," commented Attila Baldauf on the students' activity, who believes that if all goes well, the team could be playing in an official university league within a year. "Our goal is to establish a university league. We are still at the very beginning, but we are already in talks with other institutions. There seems to be support for the idea everywhere, which would also greatly help the development of the sport at home," he added.

Attila Baldauf believes that right from the first university recruitment, a lot of talent was already on the roster. As he noted, almost no one started playing the sport as a rookie, practically everyone has some background - most of them came into the sport with a handball or football background. According to the coach, after just a few weeks it is already clear that they are a skilful and motivated bunch, so it all depends on how disciplined they are in training in the coming weeks and months.

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Training sessions take place on the artificial turf pitch at the University every week on Monday and Tuesday evenings from 7:30 to 9:00 p.m. (Photo: Csaba József Májer) 

The students will be introduced to the mysteries of American football by four American Foreign Legionnnaires from the first-division Győr Sharks team. They came from the United States for this season and, in addition to playing for the adult team, they were tasked with building the university students into a future team.

"It's only been a couple of weeks of training, but I'm very happy with the guys. They're incredibly determined, they've worked hard in snow and ice. I can feel the same passion in them as in the Americans" Andrew Walock, defender of the Győr Sharks, told us.

"They came with great fundamental skills and are developing very quickly. They are instinctively good, which was a pleasant surprise for me. Four or five players could be in the Sharks team later on," added Nemeiceo Loureiro.

Anthony Figueroa agreed: "I think this squad could be competitive in Division 2, the Hungarian third league. In fact, maybe it wouldn't even be a challenge for them." he concluded.

However, Issiah Bachelder was more cautious, saying that for the time being the focus should be on the job. "We are still in the process of getting used to each other, getting to know each other. We need to work out who is the best at what, who can do what, who can fill what position. The students are becoming a team in these weeks. They are still learning the sport. They are still at beginner level, but in a short period of time they can make progress by leaps and bounds," the coach concluded.

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According to the coaches, they are a talented group, and they have a great future ahead of them (Photo: Csaba Májer, József Májer)

We also interviewed a student who has already joined the university team with several years of experience behind him. Ábel Molnár, a computer engineering student, is a player of the Tatabánya Mustangs, who play in the second class (division 1), and it came in handy for him that the University also offers training opportunities.

"I've only been able to play American football at weekends, and during the week I just go to the gym to keep in shape. I was very happy to see the sport become a part of my university, because it gave me the opportunity to play football on weekdays and be more prepared. Plus, the basics can never be repeated enough and I can learn new things. I was one of the first to sign up and I don't regret it," he said.

The future computer scientist was also asked how American football became such a popular sport in Hungary, where football has traditionally been the most popular ball game for decades.

"For ten years, you have been able to watch the American championships on TV in Hungarian, and people have realised that it's much better than football," he laughed.

"The coverage is excellent. The commentators don't just tell you what's happening on the pitch, they explain why it's happening. And in my generation there is a demand not just to watch but to play. That's why more and more teams join the federation every year, and why the Hungarian national team has made it to the elite of the European Championship, Group A," he said, explaining the reasons for the dynamic expansion. The student believes that if the University championship is really established, it will further increase the visibility of American football in our country.

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According to Ábel Molnár, American football is more than a team (Photo: Csaba József Májer) 

Dr Tamás Gyömörei, head of the University's Centre for Physical Education and Sport, is also working for the success of American football on behalf of the university.

"In the United States, universities are the backbone of American football, and in Hungary there is a strong chance that higher education will be the base of the supply of new players for the first division championship. The championship is certainly a step in that direction, which will further increase the already steep rise in interest. Széchenyi István University supports all such initiatives as far as it is able, and it is an open question as to what kind of organisation the team will have in the coming years." said the sports director, who believes that it is too early to talk about a separate department, but anything can happen in the long term.

Dr Tamás Gyömörei concluded by saying that the team is open to all those interested in joining the training sessions, as there are never enough good players.

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According to Attila Baldauf, the University team could also reach the national third class (division 2) (Photo: Csaba József Májer)

American football will also count towards physical education courses. Although students are not yet able to take American football as an official course, by showing a sports participation card, they can substitute the courses Strength (TS_02), Aerobic Endurance (TS_03) and Sports Science (TS_04) for participation in training sessions.

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