Life with the Lancers: Solving the Extracurricular Enigma

Image description: Two NFL teams face-off in a match.

Extracurricular activities at Oxford: a world of possibilities and challenges. When I started at Oxford University, I decided that I wanted to throw myself into its world of extracurricular opportunities. This seemed counterintuitive to many of my peers, because of the infamous Oxford workload that causes unceasing fear. The question that gazed piercingly at me was: how do you solve the Oxford extracurricular enigma?

How do you make the most of the À la carte menu’s worth of extracurricular opportunities on offer – many of them for free? 

I decided to play sports at Oxford and it is a decision that I do not regret. The next logical question was: what sport should I play? American football? Admittedly, this is a strange choice. I had never played the sport before; it is not that popular in this country. So what drew me to it? Well, I considered playing some college sports, but then I decided that I would charge out of my comfort zone.

This meant that I had to go beyond the homely comforts of football or rugby. 

As a fan of American sports, playing one of them appeared to be an incredible opportunity. I like the idea of American football; it is a fun sport to watch and the strategic and technical aspect of set plays intrigues me. Many of you may not understand the sport, so I will attempt to give a quick overview of the rules. A team will attempt to advance the ball to the endzone by a quarterback throwing it to players called receivers, or running it (often with a player called a running back). They get four chances (which are called downs) to move at least ten yards, or the ball gets turned over. Every time someone is tackled, or the ball goes out of bounds, the game stops. This is one of the biggest gripes people have about the sport, as the four fifteen minute quarters in an NFL game actually takes three hours to be completed.

I urge you, give it a chance – the three hours go as fast as Oxford terms!

Enough of the rules anyway. I decided to join the Oxford Lancers, Oxford University’s American football team. Previously known as the Cavaliers, they were combined with Oxford Brookes University’s team until 2010, when they were no longer allowed to compete as one combined team. The Cavaliers were once quite a force, winning a national championship in the 2001/02 season. The split led to the formation of the Lancers, who constituted the smaller half of the two and who had work to do to become competitive on their own. The current club president is Stewart Humble, a sixth year DPhil student studying Biomedical Sciences. He tells stories of his first year on the team, when the team went 0-4 down at the start of the season, until a rallying talk in the dressing rooms from Head Coach Ian Hiscock led to them winning the rest of their games. The earlier stories of this team are similar to this, stories of team spirit in the face of adversity, evinced by the career of former QB Will Szymanski. He holds the team records for rushing touchdowns, passing touchdowns, games played and pretty much everything else.

The modern Lancers are definitively on the way up. Currently we are 4-0, with promising promotion hopes. This is our best season since 2015/16 – long enough ago that there are no shared players with that team! Construction will soon begin on an American football pitch in University Parks; a place for the Lancers to finally call home. There are some standout players who deserve a mention, like David, a third year Maths and Computer Science student and star running back who makes getting tackled by grown men look like an art. Yet this sport is about the collective, rather than the individual. Our team is a melting pot of age. Some of the players are old enough to father other players! There is also a great variety in the background of the players, from the deep, rural south of the USA to the wilderness and ruggedness of northern Scotland, to the sandy, sunlit beaches of Australia. These differences mean that had it not been for the Lancers, many of us would never have met each other, yet united by a common goal, there is a truly unbreakable team spirit.

The Lancers have come a long way as a team.

They are still marching merrily on their forward trajectory. Despite the success of the team, coach Ian continues to remind the players to take each game step by step, which is an approach that has worked so far, as the Lancers currently have a 5-0 record. By the time this piece is out, we will have played our sixth game, which will confirm whether or not we get promoted. I obviously hope that we win, but regardless of the result, I cannot imagine many other people I’d rather have shared the journey with.

Image credit: Unsplash