Verge Meets: Kenny Bello from the UK Dukes

Kenny with Phoebe Schecter

First of all, tell us about yourself.

My name is Kenny, I’m originally a Primary School teacher by trade but I’ve played and coached American Football for about fourteen years now. I absolutely love playing, but more than that I love the fact that I get to work with children and young people to positively influence the next generation.

Tell us about how you got involved in American Football.

As a teenager I played football or soccer, but when I moved to university the team wasn’t what I expected so I needed something new to do. A close friend who was into his American sports joined the University American football team and he asked me to come along. He’d seen that I could throw from a rounders game, so he said
that if I could learn how to throw an American football I’d get on the team. I spent the summer holidays after my first year watching Mike Vick highlights (possibly the most ridiculous American football athlete of all time) and learning how to throw a football. That September I joined the Birmingham University Lions.

You’ve broken a world record can you tell us all about it?

It’s always been a dream of mine to hold at least one Guinness World Record, and I saw that Jarvis Landry and Kirk Cousins equaled the record for most catches around the back. I did a bit of research and there
was a record on the furthest catch behind the back that was held by Dude Perfect, who are well known for doing sports trick-shots in America. The distance was something I thought was breakable, so we set about the arduous task of applying which is a lot more complicated than it seems. The hardest part of the task was finding someone who could throw fifty yards – a few people tried but Ben Eaton from Coventry was our hero. He must have a bionic arm or something. The rules were very strict, you had to have your back completely to the catch and the ball couldn’t touch your back at all. I had some very strict referees on the day but late last year in October I was able to catch it – the record is 48.751 yards. They sent a certificate though but I’m hoping they put it in the book!

What’s it like to have a world record?

Very surreal because you’ve done something better than anyone else in the history of kept records – it’s hard to describe that.

Tell us about how the UK Dukes has come about.

As a teacher I taught many children American Football and what always stood out to me was that outside of
structured situations, children didn’t know what to do with an American football. They’d end up just jumping on each other or just trying to play rugby with it or even kicking it as far as they could. The initial idea was to show them what you could do with a football if it’s just you and a mate or a few friends, and to show the fun in
football as well. I also wanted to give people things that were challenging but achievable and that was the most important thing. I am not special – the catches are not because I’ve got 4xl hands or anything like that, it’s just that if you practice at anything for long enough you’ll eventually get good at it.

The group started with just Austin Greenlee and myself. A year on, Wonder Woman Phoebe Schecter has joined us and we also have Michael Reimel in Philadelphia who is our American counterpart! Together, the 4 of us make the most dynamic unit since…..well, you get the idea.

 

Tell us about some of the challenges you’ve put together.

Originally it didn’t even start with the challenges, we did a few catches and people sent in videos of them trying to do the same which is where the challenge idea came from. The challenge that sticks out is the selfie catch challenge (#SelfieCatchChallenge), which is where you look into the camera, as if taking a selfie, and you catch the ball as it comes to you but you have to look away. It had close to half a million views on Facebook and
we’ve had videos sent in from all over the world including Mexico, Russia, Finland, America and Austrailia.

What was it like when you first saw someone from another country doing the challenge?

The very first video we received was someone saying that we owe them a new phone because it was smashed by the ball! But it is amazing, something that we did on the field just messing around, people saw and started trying it themselves. People taking to what you’re doing and engaging with it is really cool. I guess it’s the same as when a music artist hears random people singing their songs – unreal!

Do you think it’s a fun way for people to get involved?

Having been around American football for a while, I’ve tried to get many friends involved and usual barriers are that the game is too complicated. We’ve taken all the rules and stop start nature of the sport out of the equation and brought it right back to the most fundamental basics of throwing and catching, that’s essentially all we do and that’s the essence of what American football is. With what we do, you don’t need to go and join a team, if you see Odell Beckham Jr or if you see us do something that you can go and replicate with your friends. It’s a great way for people to get involved with the game.

Speaking of Odell, did we see a video of you playing catch with him?

You’ve done your research! I happened to be at a location where he was filming for the NFL here in London. They had a break from filming and he wanted to play catch because he’d seen us throwing the ball around with some local teenagers. That’s actually where the One Hand Only challenge was born. Considering who he is, he was so polite, highly engaging and very humble, which fits in with our motto of “Do Ridiculous, Be Humble”. People’s reaction to the video of me throwing the ball with Odell Beckham Jr makes it even better.

Is there a non-professional American football player that would be your dream person to throw the ball to?

We are big fans of Michael Dapaah, Stormzy and Mo the Comedian. I doubt any of them have ever played American football although we did see that Stormzy was at the Super Bowl! It would be great to see how they would cope with a new sport and who would take to it quickest. Big Shaq catching a touchdown and shouting Man’s Not Hot would be hilarious!!


How do people submit their videos?

We’ve had videos sent lots of different ways, people might send it via our Facebook page, or upload and tag us on Instagram or use hashtags like #UKDUKES.

What’s the next big trick that you’ve got planned?

We’re planning something pretty top secret and I can’t give too much away, but it’s going to be high, very high.

How do people reach you?

You can find us on Facebook if you search The UK Dukes, on Instagram it is @UK.Dukes and on Twitter, it is @TheUKDukes.

For students who are looking into playing American Football, what would your tips for them be?

The great thing for students is that the sport is growing quickly, there are so many universities now with actual teams – whether that’s flag teams (non-contact version), or the kitted teams and that’s both male and female as well. Teams are always welcoming because most people have played different sports and coming into playing American Football. So find your team, most likely at your university. If your university doesn’t have a team, the BAFA (British American Football Association) website has information about where teams are, hopefully close by.

For more information on the UK Dukes on Instagram visit  www.theukdukes.com