Going the distance for talent
London Community News
By Jonathon Brodie/London Community News / Twitter: @jonathonbrodie
Longtime football coach Tom Cudney is looking for football talent. He’s not going to a hotbed recruiting spot like Texas or California though; instead he’s travelling somewhere quite literally hotter — the Samoan island of Upolu.
The 55-year-old London resident was selected along with 10 other coaches to take the 27-hour flight — with layovers — to start a high school football program funded by the Samoan-government.
Cudney has signed on to tackle the initiative for at least four years, starting with one high school playing a small-season and hoping to expand the game to more schools across the tiny islands country of roughly 179,000 people and possibly further.
“I think we’re going to have to take small steps and find our satisfactions and little accomplishments from day-to-day,” Cudney said, starting the program in the Samoan capital of Apia. “The long-term plan, within the next year or two, is to get our coaches that are in Samoa on other islands and get other teams started, like in Tonga and Fiji.”
Cudney is only one of two coaches on the staff without any Samoan background, but he’s more than qualified to teach the game to anyone.
The football-lifer played four seasons as a receiver with the London Beefeaters starting in ‘76, before stints with NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs, CFL’s Winnipeg Blue Bombers and the now-defunct USFL’s Denver Gold and Tampa Bay Bandits.
Since ‘85 he’s been a coach in a variety of offensive positions with teams like the Beefeaters, Western Mustangs, Saskatchewan Roughriders and Toronto Argonauts — giving Michael “Pinball” Clemons his famous nickname — among others.
This time around Cudney will be taking on the offensive co-ordinator role in Samoa and working alongside Baltimore Ravens 2000 Super Bowl champion Ed Moratoto as his offensive line coach—just one of the many staffers with past positions in the NFL and U.S. Division-I college stacked on their resume.
Most likely though, none of the Samoan players will know who any of them are.
“How many kids can say that the very first coach they ever had played 10 years in the NFL?” Cudney said. “These kids are going to get the best coaching any kid could get starting out right away.”
The coaching is more than just getting some youth better at America’s most popular sport. In a small country deeply steeped in tradition, the opportunities to gain education in sport is limited at best, especially when the country’s most popular games are rugby and cricket.
“Ultimately, what we’re trying to do here is to prepare these kids for college. There’s the academic side, certainly it’s not just football,” Cudney said, leaving for Samoa in November and returning in August. “There’s not a lot of post-secondary opportunities for them in rugby. Not a lot of scholarships are coming their way.”
To travel halfway across the world to teach teenagers who may not have ever seen a single down of football might sound crazy to some, but Cudney contends the Samoans traditional values, natural physique and familiarity with rugby will work out just fine for the newcomers to the game.
“From a coaching standpoint you can’t coach toughness and you can’t coach the size of the people. We can teach them the fighter techniques and the strategies of the game,” Cudney said, adding the first offensive play he’ll most likely show the team will be the quaterback toss— something done more than 100 times in a rugby game. “As a coach you really want to play into a kid’s strength. You want to do what they can do well first and they can develop those weaknesses.”
Who knows the impact Cudney and his team will have on Samoa.
Football wasn’t introduced to nearby American Samoa until John F. Kennedy took notice to a 1961 Readers Digest article stating the country’s poverty. To take action, the American president helped build the 54-square-mile volcanic island and in doing so, television came to the nation and football was introduced.
Today, NFL stars with American Samoan descent can easily be found with the likes of Pittsburg Steelers’ Troy Polamalu leading the way. A 2010 report estimates more than 200 playing Division-I college ball.
“Football has been a big part of my life for four decades now and I just love teaching,” Cudney said. “This may be the last job I ever I want.”
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