Hut, hut, hike! The Pythons are here to take American football at Cambridge into the end zone.
Like most of his Pythons teammates, Daniel Starkey (Jesus) had only seen American football on television before coming to Cambridge, but he knew from day one that he wanted to give it a go. “I had a couple of friends at school with American parents who were fans, and they slowly got my whole friendship group into it,” he says. “We watched the games together, but all supported different teams to keep it exciting. My team is the Jacksonville Jaguars, which I shouldn’t admit because they’re probably the worst team in the NFL! But when I gave playing a go, I absolutely loved it and it became my main thing at university, besides my degree.”
Now President of the Cambridge University Pythons American Football Club, Starkey says that he found the game relatively easy to pick up, and the high-octane mix of monstrous hits and fast pace immediately grabbed him. “Obviously it’s a team sport, which is a thing a lot of people love, and you need a big squad for it, which gives a nice family feeling, certainly within the Pythons. A lot of people watch it and they don’t understand it, so they don’t join in, but more than half of our players had never played the game before they came to Cambridge. Once I knew what was going on, it captured me like no other sport.”
After reaching the playoffs in the pre-Covid season, he’s optimistic about the team’s chances of promotion to BUCS South East Division 1. He’s also looking forward to the highlight of the sporting calendar: Varsity. “It’s a huge day; there’s always a big crowd of fans and there’s so much excitement.” Oxford has proven hard to beat, but last year’s disappointing loss prompted Starkey to put himself forward for president. “Like the rest of the committee, I want to improve the level we’re playing at, aim high and lift the team up.” This includes inspiring his teammates before a game. “I’ll just tell them that I’m ready to go, that I’m going to give everything to the team and I ask the players to do the same. Maybe we’ll talk about the opposition’s strengths and weaknesses, but it’s mostly just about getting the adrenaline going and getting people excited and ready to fight.”
The group camaraderie extends off the field, with members meeting on Sundays to watch televised NFL games before going to the pub and (restrictions permitting) holding a Super Bowl party at the Cambridge Union every February. While the sport has traditionally been male-dominated, the Pythons is open to all, with one woman player at present and people from all backgrounds encouraged to sign up. Starkey says, “There’s a wide range of body types on an American football team so everyone should give it a go – they might love it.”
He says: “Having this outlet that keeps me active twice a week is massively important for my mental health. When I’m on the field, any deadlines or work I might be struggling with aren’t a concern, I’m totally invested in the game.”
#87 Daniel Starkey, Jesus, third-year Engineering; #54 Will Bunker, Trinity Hall, second-year English; #97 Harry Vellios, Clare, second-year Engineering; and #9 Phil Jiang, Girton, second-year Engineering.