Rods' Shaquille Armstrong off to Australia
St. James Rods MFLM alumnus Shaquille Armstrong will pursue a football career in Australia's National Gridiron League.
Shaquille Armstrong hopes to play for the North Coast Heat in a new Australian league
Winnipeg Sun || April 6, 2016
By Paul Friesen
It’s a new football league on the other side of the world, promising to deliver “high quality, live American football entertainment.”
Shaquille Armstrong, a 24-year-old who played midget football for the St. James Rods and junior for the Winnipeg Rifles as a high-schooler before a five-year stint at Concordia University, and Alex Suber, the former Bombers defensive back, have signed up — Armstrong as a defensive lineman and Suber as an assistant coach.
“It’s another adventure,” Armstrong, who’s also played in France, was saying, Wednesday. “I’m still able to play football, and that’s the one thing I’ve always wanted to do. If I can do that and get paid for it, then I’m somewhat living the dream.
Players and coaches are being drawn mainly from U.S. colleges, but beyond that nobody here knows all that much about what the thing’s going to look like.
Armstrong heard about the league through some friends and found a player application on-line.
Someone looked at his film and sent him a contract, calling for a salary of around $20,000 Australian (on par with the Canadian buck right now), plus his travel and living accommodations.
“As far as I know, I’m one of only a couple of Canadians on the rosters,” Armstrong said. “I talked to the head coach and the defensive coordinator... I took my time. I wanted to make sure this was a legitimate thing. There were some names I recognized from the NCAA, too, so it seemed like it was going to be done professionally, the right way.”
Australian NGL Attracts North American Football Players and Coaches
The Link || May 10, 2016
By Tristan D'Amours
Photo: Brianna Thicke
It was during a conversation with friends about football when the idea of Australia first came into Shaquille Armstrong’s mind. The former Concordia Stingers defensive end caught wind that a new league was opening up down under but needed to confirm it was the right kind of football.
“I had people ask me if I considered playing rugby so I had to make sure it wasn’t Aussie rules football or rugby,” said Armstrong. “The last thing I needed was to go down there and play rugby because I’ve never played it before.”
Just a few months later, Armstrong became a part of the North Coast Heat. The team will play in the inaugural season of the National Gridiron League, Australia’s first attempt at professional American football.
Armstrong googled the league and found the NGL recruitment page on its website. He filled the recruitment form and included highlights from his time with the Concordia Stingers.
His form ended up on the desk of Kirk Mastromatteo, the director of football operations at the NGL. His role with the league is quite unique. Mastromatteo acts as the general manager of all the ball clubs.
“Shaquille was a young man that was identified early on in the system,” said Mastromatteo. Through our evaluations we said ‘hey this guy can play at our level,’ so from there he got allocated to the North Coast team.”
Mastromatteo deals with hundreds of players on a daily basis. He evaluates players’ profiles, and if he likes what he sees, he offers them a contract with the league. The players are then allotted to one of the eight teams located across New South Wales and Queensland.
American football being American football, the best leagues are on the North American continent and the players know this. Despite wanting to be a starter and major contributor to North Coast next season, Armstrong doesn’t hide the fact that he would like to return to North America to play, but he doesn’t cross out a longer term stay in Australia.
“As of right now I look at [the NGL] as a stepping stone to coming back and playing in North America,” said Armstrong. “As long as it’s something I’m enjoying, the salary is competitive enough [between the NGL and the North American leagues], and I’m on a team that I’m happy with.”
Despite holding a national combine, an event held to give an opportunity to players from Australia, New Zealand, or internationals holding an Australian visa to make it in the league, the sport doesn’t have a whole lot of native-born football players. The NGL, which is set to begin this fall, will have a heavy foreign influence. Out of the 40-man roster, 35 can come from outside of Australia.
The NGL takes the gamble that all those international players will help develop the native-born players and therefore, help out the sport’s popularity.