Even us ‘soccer’ fans with a passing interest in the NFL will know the big stars of ‘America’s Game’, the National Football League.
From the quarterbacks (QB) - Cam Newton and his ‘dab’ celebration, Tom Brady and Russell Wilson - to the wide receivers (WR) who make those thrilling catches - just think Odell Beckham Jr’s infamous one-handed effort last year - that’s the glory of the NFL, right there.
But every battle in sport is won 'in the trenches'. Just like the Premier League, where that midfield ‘engine room’ is so important, or the scrum in rugby union, the NFL has the scrimmage. That’s where the offensive and defensive lines do battle. And that’s where NFL is won or lost.
Below: Kelvin with Jaguars at Wembley last weekend
The huge players taking their place in this scrimmage - the tackles, the guards, the ends and the centre - define NFL matches every week. The defensive line want to get to the QB. The offensive line has to protect him.
With such physicality, it’s not surprising that statistics show an average career span of just 3.3 years in the NFL. As we said at the start, every time these men step over the white line, anything could happen.
Tackle on the offensive line and protector of QB Blake Bortles, Kelvin, 27, knows that only too well. A star in college football for SMU (Southern Methodist University, Dallas), Kelvin was drafted by the famous Pittsburgh Steelers in 2012. He did well for the Steelers as well and helped them to the play-offs in 2014 and 2015.
Unfortunately, Kelvin’s personal 2015 campaign didn’t reach the play-offs as he suffered a serious knee injury (ACL) against the Arizona Cardinals on October 18, 2015. That was his last match of the season, and last for the Steelers. After almost a year out, he returned to the NFL as a Jaguar, having joined Jacksonville in March.
In his second game for the Jags, he suffered concussion against San Diego Chargers, and was stretchered from the field of play again. But he was back for Wembley and played his part in a crucial 30-27 win against the Indianopolis Colts, his dream date playing in the same stadium as Spurs.
Below: Kelvin is stretchered away after suffering a serious knee injury last year
The Jags' #68 has seen at close-quarters that physical threat of an NFL player at the line of scrimmage, but it’s something he relishes.
‘It all goes down in the trenches’
“I know everyone wants to look at the quarterback or the running back or the wide receivers but if you look closely at the game, the game is won between the offensive line and defensive line,” Kelvin told us. “Those guys get the respect. It all goes down in the trenches. It’s physical in there and as an offensive lineman, I’ve got to protect Blake Bortles (Jaguars’ QB). If I don’t, he can’t get the ball out to Allen Robinson (WR), Allen Hurns (WR), Mercedes (Lewis, tight end), JT (Julius Thomas, tight end) or (TJ Yeldon, running back). So if we don’t do our jobs, they are not able to do their jobs and therefore we can’t put up points, which is the target of the offense.”
Below: Kelvin (centre) ready to take the field at Wembley
‘I love the physicality’
Asked how he coped with the mental side of the game - just back from serious injury, but facing that physical barrage every week - Kelvin responded: “It comes down to three things. One, I trust God. Two, I love the game. I love the game of football and I’ve played since I was a little kid. I love the physicality, I love the price you have to pay to play this game, I love the brothers who are fighting with you.
“Thirdly, I have a family to feed. My family is most important. This is what I do to make money, to take care of my wife and child. It’s my job, but also my hobby. I get to do something that I love every day. It’s the price you pay because of the goal you want to accomplish. I knew what comes with this job. I have a wife who is a nurse and she understands the ramifications of what this game does, and my mother doesn’t like to see her son on a stretcher, but my family understands what this sport means and this is what I chose to do.”
‘Sometimes it’s a struggle getting out of bed…’
So how long does it take to recover from an NFL game? Kelvin: “For me, after the knee injury last year, sometimes I don’t feel good until the Thursday afternoon, honestly, sometimes even Friday. Before that, perhaps it was Tuesday night or Wednesday. Wednesday is the hardest practice of the week. The physical side is incredible. I will admit, sometimes it’s a struggle getting out of bed after that Sunday game.”
Below: Kelvin in training
‘If you are good, people will find you’
NFL is ‘America’s Game’ and kids all over the country dream of reaching the pinnacle of the sport, just like football here in England. So how difficult is it to make it to the top?
Kelvin: “It takes a lot of hard work, dedication, sacrifice and you have to be in the right place at the right time. I was blessed to have a coach (in college) who had coached in the NFL and my offensive line coach actually played in the NFL and won three Super Bowls. He was my coach as SMU and when you have that NFL experience around you, people are more likely to at least take a look at you.
“One of my coaches would say ‘everybody has a shot at getting into the NFL, it’s just about staying in the NFL’ because the average career in the NFL is only three-and-a-half years. The statistics are mind-boggling really. It’s something I don’t take for granted. If you are good, people will find you, but there is still a long way to go.”
Back to soccer - why Spurs?
Kelvin: “In the NBA (basketball) in America there is a team called San Antonio Spurs. I’ve been a Spurs fans since I can remember. When I turned professional, I started looking at other sports, including soccer. I watched FC Dallas when I was in college and thought ‘I need a team’.
“I wanted a team to call my own. I had a basketball team, a football (NFL) team, a baseball team but I wanted a soccer team. I came across Tottenham Hotspur and thought, well, that’s a coincidence. Spurs in the US and in Europe. So what better team? I did a little research and thought ‘this is the team for me’. It was simple for me after that. I’ve got Spurs in America and Spurs in Europe and I’ve loved it so far. This is a great team to associate with.”