As part of their continued presence in the UK, the Jacksonville Jaguars took over Europe’s largest urban shopping mall - Westfield Stratford - in east London, right next to the London 2012 Olympic Park, with signing sessions, cheerleading classes, face painting and lots more for busy shoppers to engage with.
Jaguars’ safety Jonathan Cyprien, cornerback
“We have a lot of momentum from last year coming into this year,” said Robinson when Reynolds kicked off the session with a question about the Jags’ chances of success in 2014. “All the coaching staff are right behind us and we want to be the home team here,” he continued. “We want to make London our second home.”
A large part of any future success is Jaguars Head Coach and all-round nice guy, Gus Bradley, someone who Jonathan Cyprien is full of praise for. “Gus is a great leader,” said Cyprien, who played 15 times for the Jaguars last season. “There’s nothing he won’t ask us to that he won’t do himself - the whole team are buying into him and we are looking towards a better season.”
With the 2014 NFL Draft, at the time of writing, halfway through after starting on Thursday, and the film ‘Draft Day’ being shown straight afterwards, Neil Reynolds picked the brains of the three Jaguars players to find out what their experience was when they were drafted and what they thought of the new Jacksonville signings; quarterback
“We did great,” said the 23-year-old Robinson. “We have made some great improvements in our squad and we hope to continue to do well. Dave Caldwell (Jaguars General Manager) and Gus have made some good decisions.”
“Getting those good receivers only makes us better,” said the New Jersey-born Gratz. “I started to play when I was seven, so to take my talent to the highest level [when I got drafted] was the best thing that ever happened to me, besides graduating from college; it was just amazing to share it all with my family.”
Cyprien was also full of emotion when he remembered his draft day. “The experience is one of those moments, if you’ve never had a child; it is like ‘we’ve just had a child’. You wait for it your whole life, but for many of us it’s our first job and you get paid real well. You’re not only helping yourself, your helping your family and waking up every morning doing something you love.”
“When hear your name called it’s great,” said wide receiver Robinson. “You cannot put that feeling you had into words. My family have been with me through everything; through highs and lows. My Mum took me to games when I was younger and made sacrifices.
“When I got drafted I was trying to do everything but now I am confident and relaxed; I feel way better.”
“The NFL Draft comes at the end of a very gruelling period following the combine,” explained Cyprien, who made 104 tackles last season. “You end your college career, then the NFL scouts come and get their chance to speak to you - they have always been watching you, but this is the first time they can get their hands on you and all 32 teams want to know all about you - it’s a long process.”
“The biggest challenge was adjusting to speed of game,” said Gratz when he was asked about the main difference between college and primetime football. “Everyone’s fast; everyone’s big, it is so much faster than college and when you step up on the field, you’ve got to be natural.
“On any day, at any game it can be your worse - you cannot soak in after getting drafted. Whether going to watch film or getting smarter you can always improve.”
Robinson added: “In college football you have 12 games then you have a rest, but in the NFL you have 16 games, with just one rest; one bye week. It feels like a year and it’s a long season but you enjoy it because that’s what you enjoy doing; being a professional.”
The Jaguars’ return to Wembley Stadium in the last of the three 2014 NFL International Series games when they host the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday November 9 and the three Jaguars are looking forward to it.
“I can’t wait to return,” said Cyprien. “My first experience of London was a great one. There were different jerseys everywhere on all the fans because they love football. I respect fans in the UK because they just want to come and see football, and we feel their energy.”
“I took pictures of everything,” said Robinson. “The [Trafalgar Square] fan rally was great to see fans come out and we want everyone here to support us as the whole team.”
So what is next for the trio from Jacksonville? “We leave tomorrow (Sunday) morning and will be working out on Monday morning - we’re really working for you guys,” joked Cyprien.
“We will be working out for one week and then the rookies come in on Friday for the weekend with all the coaches, catching them up with everything. Then the veterans like us will all be together from then.”
“They don’t call us veterans yet,” said Robinson with a smile. “In three more games they can.”
by Andrew McSteen