Central’s Suggett extends his football career in Europe

As he began to ponder life after Central at the dawn of 2020, the logical side of the offensive guard Jake Suggest ’20 admitted it was probably a good thing his football career was over, having spent more than his fair share of time in the athletic training room.

Nonetheless, football at Central for Suggett was a memorable run as the Dutch rallied to claim a share of the American Rivers title in 2019, his senior season, when he served as the team’s co-captain. Central then staged the biggest rally in school history as they came back from 24 points in the second half to pass the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh in the NCAA Division III playoffs. But the Dutch were unceremoniously ousted the following week at Wheaton College (Ill.) 49-13.

He graduated as an engineer, but his fire for football still flickered brightly. Suggett has spent the 2020-21 year taking lessons and volunteering as an assistant to the Dutch offensive line coach Eric Jones during the pandemic-altered season. A future in coaching seemed like the best alternative to competition. But as he spent part of his winter break seeking graduate assistant coaching jobs, an advert appeared for Playoverseas, an organization that facilitates opportunities to pursue higher education in the UK while playing in the UK. Football.

Suggett’s eyes locked on the ad. A new graduate opportunity appeared in his options menu as quickly as the ad had popped up on his computer screen: He could play football.

“I thought football was over forever,” he says. “And here I am now.”

He is currently at the University of West England in Bristol, a port city about an hour from Cardiff, Wales. The coach there liked what he saw of Suggett on his film Central and reached out to Suggett, who is pursuing a master’s degree in engineering management but also plays football. Unlike in the US, there is no limit to the length of a college playing career in the UK.

“As long as you’re in school, you can play,” Suggett says.

He started the 12-month master’s program a year ago.

Suggett isn’t even the first member of the family to play football in Europe. He made his first trip there as a youth in 2010 to see his stepmother Melissa Gallegos play in Sweden for the USA team, which won a gold medal at the International Federation American Football Women’s World Championship.


“I was quite young and that was before I really started playing football,” Suggett said. “Yeah, it was great going to Sweden, but I was young and I don’t think I really enjoyed it all as much as I should have.”


The level of talent for British college football sometimes exceeds the intensity. Since graduate and undergraduate students compete, player ages often range between 18 and 30. Many British students are relatively new to the sport, but there are many former American university players competing like Suggett, who was one of 17 American players in the UWE team, which has less than 50 players, less than the half of a typical central team. . The UWE quarterback played at the University of New Hampshire, Suggett says, and a defensive back played at Iowa State University.


“It’s all over the spectrum,” Suggett says. “It ranges from players who have been playing the sport for three months to playing against a professional who has just returned to school.”

Yet the obsession with training and year-round practice found in America is lacking.

“It’s definitely not what I’m used to,” Suggett says. “It’s a bit laid back.

“If I had to guess, it doesn’t seem like they go into the weight room much. And often we only train here twice a week. So I only train 4-5 hours a week with a little film here and there. They don’t spend as much time on it, so I think the biggest difference is the football IQ level.
University teams are split over two tiers and UWE are part of around 10 teams in the top tier, the Premiership, playing in the South Division. All home games are streamed live on YouTube for family and friends in the United States to watch. Few playing fields have seats, so around 200 fans engulf the benches and sidelines.

“It’s a bit of a different experience having the fans on the pitch right next to you,” Suggett said. “On the quick-change bearings, you kind of have to run between people.”

The schedule also differs from that of the United States with games starting in November before taking a break in early December and resuming play in late January, with the domestic title game in late March.

But it’s football, and that’s all that matters to Suggett, who also values ​​the proximity to the rest of Europe and the ability to travel as COVID restrictions ease.

“It’s been a blast so far,” Suggett said.

Jake Suggest ’20 and some West of England teammates exploring London.

The venue for resuming his footballing career after nearly two years away was radically different, but so was his perspective when he returned to the pitch for his first UK game.

“I was putting this helmet on and I think that’s when it really hit me for the first time,” Suggett said. “I thought it was a feeling I was never going to have again. It makes you rethink everything. I really enjoy the game a lot. At Central, I really don’t think I took every rep (workout rep) like potentially my last. I don’t think it hit me until that clock hit zero at Wheaton that, hey, you’re done. I kind of took it for granted. But now every rep and every game I play is something more that I wouldn’t have without this opportunity.”

Even with a few more miles on his knees and muscles, the season was less painful than some of his years at Central.
“It’s a little crazy,” he said. “I think taking this year between playing my last season at Central and playing again this year has served me well. No serious injuries. The body feels good. I don’t really know what happened between my career injury-filled history in Central and coming here. But I really appreciate it and don’t take it for granted.

It’s a sentiment his American teammates at UWE also relish.

“I’m here with a lot of other people who really didn’t know what we were getting into,” Suggett said. “And we all had that moment when we thought football was over. So I kind of took the approach every time to go out there and have fun.”

And now that he’s here, he’s not ready for the race to end after UWE used a last-minute score to win the national championship in late March. A few European professional teams contacted Suggett, offering accommodation and a small salary to play in a league in Germany, Finland, Spain, France or elsewhere.

“Right now Germany is considered the best with the German Football League,” Suggett said. “It’s starting to get a bit bigger. And there’s the European Football League and they have teams from all over.”

The pro season kicked off in April and Suggett’s teachers would have allowed him to complete his degree remotely, but he’s decided to decline pro offers for now. He will stay in the UK and continue training, keeping the door open to playing professionally next summer.

Even though Suggett doesn’t play professionally, a perspective-changing trip in 2018 with the central football team in Germany, Austria and Switzerland left him eager to return to the European continent.

“I want to go back to Germany,” he says. “This trip to Munich was an eye opener for me. There was something about it. I really loved the city. And I want to ride in Sweden. There’s a whole bunch of countries I have on my watch list. I just have to sit down and figure it all out with the flights and all that. But traveling here is really cheap.

Yet Suggett is in Europe for more than tourism and football. He values ​​his academic work, which differs from what he experienced in the United States

“It’s hard to compare,” he says. “I do homework and presentations rather than calculations and written exams. It’s hard to say which is easier.”

Cultural differences increase the degree of difficulty.

“Even though we speak the same language, there is a language barrier, I learned,” he says. His lack of knowledge of the British business world also creates barriers.
“We’re presented with these case students about companies that look like our Walmart, and I keep raising my hand, saying I’ve never heard of it,” he says.

This matches the adjustment Suggett made while traveling from his home in Chula Vista, Calif., at the age of 18 when he signed up for Central.

“Going quite a distance from my home in San Diego to Central really helped me build a foundation to be OK from here,” he says. “Even though I know I’m a lot further from home than Central, I still feel like I was prepared because I couldn’t go home every weekend.

“And then obviously everyone at Central welcomed me with open arms with this kid from San Diego. It was huge. There are a lot of life lessons I can take from Central and from football and coaches .Central definitely prepared me to take on this adventure of life.”

Even at six time zones, he drew particular satisfaction from Central’s undefeated season and NCAA playoffs last fall, as well as completing some unfinished business from Suggett’s own career. His memorable 2019 season ended with a thud, with victory at Wheaton. Consequently, Suggett shared his young Central teammates’ feelings of redemption when the Dutch staged an epic 30-28 second-round playoff victory over Wheaton at Pella on Nov. 27, watching every stomach clap from a dormitory in Britain.

“I was in my room screaming,” Suggett said. “My roommates were wondering what was going on. I was jumping off walls. I was going crazy just watching that last drive. But I just knew there was some magic left in that court after we did it against Oshkosh (in 2019).”

Some of Suggett Central’s teammates are already launching careers and collecting salaries, but he wouldn’t trade his European adventure.

“I know a lot of guys are doing what they love and I’m happy for them,” he said. “But continuing to play this sport that I love is definitely a dream. If the body didn’t age, I would like to be able to play forever.”

 

Jake Suggett offensive guard
Jake Suggest ’20 relished the chance to play football again last season.