PASSION PROJECT: Western Cougars Gridiron Club manager James Cowlishaw and coach John Booker.
PASSION PROJECT: Western Cougars Gridiron Club manager James Cowlishaw and coach John Booker. Rob Williams

Let's make American Football 'great again'

THE WESTERN Cougars were once a powerhouse of the Gridiron Queensland competition.

As the Ipswich Cougars, the club won six 'Sunbowl' championships in eight years from 1998-2004.

A move away from Ipswich to Wacol a few years ago was meant to bring the club closer to Brisbane and closer to another championship; instead it had the opposite effect.

Within just a handful of seasons, the Cougars went from dominant to dormant. The club did not field a side this year.

However, with passionate American Football advocates like new manager James Cowlishaw now at the helm, the Cougars are walking a resurgent path.

That starts with a return to familiar roots.

"We've moved back to Cribb Park, and looking to revive the club and bring Gridiron back," Cowlishaw said.

Cowlishaw - a rival Brisbane Rhinos clubman - has made the selfless decision to step in and help the Cougars return to prominence, likely to the detriment of his beloved Rhinos.

"As a result of (Cougars) not having a team this year a couple of their players joined my team, the Brisbane Rhinos," Cowlishaw said.

"They're great players who we'd love to have on the team, but they're driving 30 minutes at least to get to training.

"So we're hoping to revive the Cougars here, where all these great players are coming from."

But Cowlishaw knows Rome was not built in a day. The Cougars still have a ways to go in building their senior player base.

So the club is starting at the junior levels, hoping to field an under-14 team this season and build upon those foundations in subsequent years.

They have enlisted some expert help to get the ball rolling, in former NFL guard John Booker.

Drafted by the San Francisco 49ers out of San Jose State in 2008, Booker failed to play a down in the NFL.

However his extensive experience has helped translate into a successful career as a travelling coach, and the Cougars have brought Booker on board for an eight-week youth program designed to immerse kids in the basics of American Football.

"We'll kit the kids out in helmets and shoulder pads, teach them to throw, run, read gaps, block, tackle . . . get them used to playing American Football," Cowlishaw said.

"The best part is it's a sport for all shapes and sizes."

The second week of the program was held at Cribb Park last night.

It runs every Tuesday from 5.30pm until November 27, at which point the Cougars will assess whether fielding a team for the under-14 season will be viable.

 

Western Cougars Gridiron Club coach John Booker.
Western Cougars Gridiron Club coach John Booker. Rob Williams

"Whether we get a men's team next year or the year after will depend on numbers, but our focus is on the junior competition first to set the foundations," Cowlishaw said.

"The main attraction at the moment is the season runs after league and union. It gives a lot of people the opportunity to keep playing sport."

Cowlishaw added the recent success of cross-code products Jordan Mailata (NRL, Philadelphia Eagles) and Michael Dickson (AFL, Seattle Seahawks) had helped boost the profile of the sport in Australia.

"The best thing about Australia is we've got athletes. If we can build and develop the program here in Australia, it won't just be those Jordan Mailatas that are 6'8 - we'll see more Australians go over to play football."