Hamilton teens have big chance thanks to gridiron
Two Hamilton teenagers have had their lives turned on their heads thanks to their American Football talents being spotted by a university scout.
Close friends Micheal Andrews-Peters, 19, and Jayden Toa-Maxwell, 18, head overseas tomorrow on four-year scholarships but they are going nowhere near the United States.
The pair are heading to Nihon University in Japan, where they will pursue their chosen sport and have their course fees, flights, accommodation and food paid for, plus be given allowance money.
The recruitment of the two was so quick they have to return from Japan after 90 days to sort out their visas.
They found out about their selection only on Monday and were due to fly on Wednesday but, because of the short notice, their families asked that the boys have a few more days to pack their bags and say their goodbyes.
Both players have been in the sport only one season, turning out for the Hamilton Hawks colts (under-20) team in weekend games against Auckland opposition and, last Saturday, they lost 6-0 in the final against the JC Spartans in Manurewa.
After finishing at Hamilton Boys' High School in 2011, Andrews-Peters had a gap year to work full-time in order to save up for university, and Toa-Maxwell - who moved back to Hamilton after finishing at Auckland's Dilworth School last year - was set to head to Perth for a gap year and work at the airport as a baggage handler then play rugby when the season kicked off.
How things have changed, after a talent scout employed by the university saw the two in action.
"One of the coaches got a call from someone and said they wanted to come and look at some players," Andrews-Peters said. "At the end of a game, this guy came and approached a few of the boys and said ‘We'd like to come and see you next week and have a meeting with you and your parents and tell you what's happening'."
The scout had six Hawks players on his radar but Andrews-Peters and Toa-Maxwell stood out from the rest.
They are not the biggest in their team but they make a big impact on the field and lead from the front and their school grades from previous years were good.
Toa-Maxwell, who is a middle linebacker, had given up softball so he could focus on rugby.
"Then the rugby season finished and I just wanted to keep practising contact to prepare me for Australia, so I signed up to play gridiron," he said, adding that he loved the physicality and making new friendships.
Andrews-Peters had played a number of sports - rugby, rugby league, touch, softball - before being lured to American Football.
"A friend on Facebook said come down, have a look and if you like it we've got a game this weekend," he said, adding that all the gear was supplied by the team for the competition from November to February.
"So I went down to training and just enjoyed it and just carried on," the outside lineman and linebacker said.
"The games are all just brutal, it's mean-as to play and I think playing with a whole lot of boys, at the start of the season we weren't really that tight and when it came to the end it started to feel like a family."
The season in Japan does not start until December and runs only until February so the boys have a long period focusing on class work and training.
Toa-Maxwell, who wants to study communication, said he was "nervous, but excited" about the move.
Andrews-Peters, who is looking to study business management and sports science, is "a bit scared but it's a big opportunity so I've just got to take it".
Though Japan would not seem to be an obvious stronghold of American Football, with the stereotypical small Asian physiques, the country has won World Cup titles, with those tournaments restrictive on eligibility of Americans.
"I've been to Japan before. I went previously on a student exchange and it's pretty much just rugby and baseball over there, so I didn't really know it was that big over there," Toa-Maxwell said.
"I know there's some big guys over there and they're committed. They all love the game so the passion's there."