Buffalo Bound: NFL Academy’s Luke Yau Gayle Preparing For The Next Step
By Simon Carroll
In this country, we may still prefix the word ‘football’ with ‘American’ to differentiate it from our own version. But make no mistake – the game is now international.
Nothing epitomises this more than the NFL Academy, which is creating legitimate pathways for players to play the sport at a high level. I sat down with Academy defensive line prospect Luke Yau Gayle to discuss his football journey, and his recent commitment to the University of Buffalo:
Taking A Chance
Luke Yau Gayle knows how to make the most of an opportunity.
Back in the Summer of 2019, The NFL Academy opened its doors – firstly at Barnet & Southgate College, before relocating to Loughborough University. Its first class attended the launch of the NFL facilities at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium that very year, giving the attending media their first glimpse of a program that was created to identify and develop talent from Europe with one goal – establishing a pathway to the NFL.
Four years on, and we are beginning to see some tangible results, with forty academy prospects receiving scholarship offers from colleges in America. Some have made the leap and are playing on Saturdays as we speak; others still waiting for their turn to come. But all have one thing in common – they took a chance.
Luke Yau Gayle is one of those who possess a scholarship offer, having committed to the University of Buffalo back in June. Incredibly, it was only a few years ago that Yau Gayle began his football journey – and it was almost as much a surprise to him as it was to anyone else:
“For me, it was a lot different to anybody else. I grew up in South-East London, didn’t really play much sports. I think I’d played rugby for maybe a couple of months, but that was it. Then one day, my friend Caleb (Ehirim) ran into me, and he just started chatting, saying how he thought I’d be good at American Football. We saw a post on Instagram from the NFL Academy advertising tryouts. So we applied together; recorded some videos, and sent them through – just to see where it would go.”
Having What It Takes
Luke Yau Gayle might have been new to the sport, but he passed the eye test. It wasn’t long before the Academy made contact, and the journey began:
“So my D-Line coach from last year, Coach Niall (Scott-Grant), he got in touch with me, telling me how he liked my build. He invited me down to see him in person, so he could try me out. I was only sixteen at the time, but he looked at me and thought I had the right frame for it. He told me then and there that he wanted to see how far I could go – and I was totally on board. From there, each year, it was just gradual progress. Working hard and seeing the results.”
Embracing something totally new, even at sixteen, is not an easy thing to do. Wariness, scepticism, and being out of your comfort zone can restrict how deep you commit to something. But for Luke, he embraced the unknown. With the support of his friends and coaches, he dived right in:
“Anything can happen. For me, I never thought I could play American Football – I didn’t even know anything about it if I’m honest. It all started when my friend told me about it. I started researching it, and I was totally blown away by it. I gotta give major credit to Coach Niall for believing in me and developing me. And then my boys – Caleb, Dillon Ward – we embarked on this together. Before we went to the Academy we went to XL Performance in Colindale for a little training session, and it was crazy! It’s wild to see how far I have progressed.”
On the NFL Academy website, Yau Gayle is listed as a ‘defensive lineman’. It’s still early days yet to truly define him and his position, but I wanted to get a feel for where he sees himself on the field. Luke, still developing his body, has a roadmap – and it involves comparing himself to an NFL standard:
“I play interior now, but I used to want to play end. But now I’m just studying Aaron Donald, Jalen Carter, Jordan Davis, those types of explosive, powerful, disruptive guys. And it’s some transition – I’m 250lbs, so 100% I’m looking to put on more weight, but keep that explosiveness. My size right now, at the college level, it ain’t going to cut it.”
Becoming A Bull
Before Luke Yau Gayle can challenge Aaron Donald, he has to make his mark at the college level. The Academy is doing impressive work networking, giving their prospects opportunities to earn those precious scholarships. One such moment was when they took a select few students over to the States for the Mercer Mega Camp; Yau Gayle was grateful to be included, and showcase his talents:
“It was an amazing opportunity. To get to go out there, see all the coaches and work with them on your game, it was a blessing. You see, you train every day at the Academy, and you’re getting better. I like to put the work in – but there’s not necessarily that exposure you need to show that, or demonstrate what you can do – and I know I could do better in terms of social media to help with that. But at the camp, you can’t hide – and they see guys like me working hard.”
If you haven’t worked it out by now, when Yau Gayle gets an opportunity, he commits EVERYTHING to it. Smart enough to recognise there’s a lot of ways to impress observers, he put on a show at Mercer – in more ways than one:
“There’s a lot that goes into it; not just your performance, but your attitude towards direction, and desire to get those reps and to improve – and to show you belong. Some guys go out there with a losing mentality before they’ve even got there, and it shows. There’s going to be guys there better than you – and you’re only going to know how good you are if you give 100%.”
It was at this camp that Luke caught the eye of Buffalo Bulls head coach Maurice Linguist. In what was essentially his first audition for a scholarship and a chance to play college football, Yau Gayle nailed it: ‘Coach Mo’ offered him right then and there. Less than a month later, and Luke had made his commitment. As Yau Gayle explained, the confidence that the Bulls staff showed in him was a big factor in his decision:
“Honestly? It was mainly the feeling of them taking a chance on me. They saw me in person, they liked me, and they didn’t hesitate – they pulled the trigger. Most schools don’t do that. Emotionally, that resonated with me. And it meant a lot to my family too, that a team had that faith. They were over the moon for me.”
Improving All The Time
Humble but confident, polite but determined; just ten minutes on a conference call is enough for me to see that Luke Yau Gayle really isn’t intimidated by what lies ahead. There are a lot of unknowns around the corner – he’s never been to Buffalo, the place where he will call home for the next four years of his life. And as for his role when he gets there – knowing that isn’t the priority either:
“For me, I don’t really mind if I contribute immediately. That’s not the focus. I’m just gonna get there, and put absolutely everything into it. No matter if I have to redshirt or not; so long as I improve each year, that’s the important thing. If I do that, I’ll naturally become valuable to my team, and eventually become a starter.”
Yau Gayle is again keen to praise those who have helped him get this far, in particular the coaches at the NFL Academy. As an aspiring interior defensive lineman, who better to learn from than former NFL DT Randy Starks?
“It’s such a valuable asset. For me, it’s mainly expanding my knowledge on the sport. Take Coach Starks for example; 12 year NFL veteran, two-time Pro Bowler – when it comes to reading pass blocking systems and how to defeat them, pass rushing moves, having him there just helps me gain a deeper knowledge of football.”
Before the NFL Academy existed, the only people from outside the USA who played football were those who fell into it. They inevitably faced a steep learning curve as they grappled with the game’s many nuances, which American kids learn and live with from a young age. Now, the Academy helps aspiring NFL stars shrink the gap for when they get stateside – and Luke was grateful for the opportunity to work on the finer details of a sport he is clearly falling in love with:
“It goes deep. We had a lot of film sessions this year – two sessions a day. We go through it with a fine tooth comb, drawing it up, making sure that we know what is required, so when it comes to the ‘indy’s’ (individual training drills) we can perfect our technique and get the most out of our training sessions. And most importantly – when we come across that particular scenario in a realtime game situation, we know what to do.”
Luke Yau Gayle has come a long way, but is still at the very beginning of his journey. When he reaches Buffalo next year, he joins a program that won just three games in 2023 – and the coaching staff that recruited him are likely under pressure to improve things quickly. The MAC might not be the biggest or best conference in College Football, but it is the most fun. More importantly, it is extremely competitive. And the Bulls have their work cut out if they are to turn things around.
But none of that phases Yau Gayle, and nor should it. This is an opportunity he has earned with total commitment – and for anyone else in this country considering giving the sport a shot, then he recommends they come with a similar mindset:
“I would just say, if you’re going to try it, put your all into it. Some sports are for you, some aren’t – but you’re never going to know until you give everything you’ve got. Anything is possible – I never knew that this sport was for me until I tried it. But you’ve got to commit to it, and leave no regrets. If you put 100% in you’ll get 100% back.”
There is no better poster child for what effort can achieve than Luke. But he knows he isn’t done yet. He intends to keep that mindset and work ethic to eventually dominate on Sundays as well as Saturdays:
“That’s the dream. There’s a reason why it’s called the NFL Academy – the NFL is the big goal. It’s great to see what the academy has achieved in terms of the college game, those guys over there already doing their thing, and the next class looking even deeper. But it’s just the first step. There is talent in this country, and if you combine it with hard work, why not the NFL? I know I’ve got a long way to go, but I will give everything to get there.”
Luke Yau Gayle relishes opportunity. And there will be plenty more before his story is done.
PREVIOUSLY THE FOUNDER OF NFL DRAFT UK, SIMON HAS BEEN COVERING COLLEGE FOOTBALL AND THE NFL DRAFT SINCE 2009. BASED IN MANCHESTER, SIMON IS ALSO CO-CREATOR & WEEKLY GUEST OF THE COLLAPSING POCKET PODCAST.
NFL Academy is recruiting for the next academic year, if you want to learn more about this life-changing opportunity, click here to find out how to apply https://www.nflacademy.com/.
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