Gong gridiron players relish need for speed

Last week's Super Bowl highlighted the key strengths of gridiron players - endurance, speed and agility.

Among those keenly watching every minute of the game were members of Wollongong's own gridiron team, the Mustangs.

Player and coach Wayne Peoples says gridiron has evolved into a faster game and players' athleticism is always pushed to the limit.

"The main thing is the ability to change direction," says American-born Peoples, who is into his third season with the Mustangs.

"Endurance is also a big thing because there are so many different positions everyone needs to be able to play in.

"And it's just the physicality of the game - if you've never donned pads and a helmet before it's very awkward to get used to the movement for starters."

The Gridiron NSW season runs from August to December, and curiously AFL, says Peoples, is the sport players get into to keep fit during the off-season.

Speed and agility drills are the focus of club training, and these include fast footwork over ladder rungs, push-ups and mountain-climbing moves.

Peoples admits injuries are par for the course in gridiron - generally bumps, bruises and torn ligaments are the usual results of a game.

"With any contact sport injury is going to be an issue," he says.

"The helmet creates blind spots, so you can get hit when you're not expecting it and that can really cause troubles."

Founded in 1992, the Mustangs also have an under-18 team named the Brumbies, with the youngest player aged 15. The Brumbies are the reigning Gridiron NSW state champions.

Peoples kicked off his gridiron career as a 13-year-old, although he still remembers kicking a ball around in the backyard as a toddler in an oversized North Carolina outfit.

He says that kids become hooked on the NFL from a young age in the United States because of the merchandise available, and players view the sport as a career that will see them through a lifetime.

"I wanted to start up when I was younger, but my mum wouldn't let me [for fear of getting hurt], so I played baseball instead," he says.

"I was about 13 and in high school when I picked it [gridiron] up," the 27-year-old says.

"When I was a teen the worst injury was a broken toe and I didn't even do that playing gridiron - it was on my skateboard.

"Since then I've have knee surgery and other things; that's the difference with age."

Peoples says the game has changed a lot since he started.

"It's becoming a fast game. It's become more athletic and quick," he says.

"The quarterback position has changed over about the last two years and they now need to be able to run with it more."

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