Ben Nowland's Excellent Football Adventure

<b>Editor's Note: This is first of a summer series of in-depth articles on current or former Auburn athletes.</b>

Frankfurt, Germany--Standing 1.88 meters tall and weighing in at a solid 138 kilos, former Auburn football player Ben Nowland will have a chance to compete for the championship of NFL Europe in the league's World Bowl XII championship game on June 12.

For the metrically challenged, Nowland is the 6-2, 305-pound starting center for the Frankfurt Galaxy team who has also seen action at guard. He even got in some spot duty at tight end earlier this season to fill in at a position that was short on players due to injury.

Nowland, a center at Auburn who turned 24 years on Thursday, will spend his birthday with his teammates tuning up for a regular season game that will be played vs. the Rhein Fire this weekend. However, no matter what happens in that contest, plus one other regular season game, the Galaxy has already clinched a spot in the championship contest in Dusseldorf, Germany where it will play the Berlin Thunder in World Bowl XII.

Ben Nowland

Since arriving in Europe in March following a training camp in Florida, Nowland says the trip across the big pond to play football has been an excellent adventure.

"It's been a blast," he tells Inside the Auburn Tigers. "Initially, it was a little hard with the time change and getting used to the food and stuff, but it grows on you. It is fun. The fans here are amazing. I wouldn't say they rival Auburn fans, but they definitely come close."

After graduating from Auburn following the 2002 season, Nowland was unsuccessful in his attempt to make the roster of the San Francisco '49ers, who released him in August. However, he got another chance with the Washington Redskins. He joined that team's practice squad in November and then in January was put on the active roster before being sent to play in the NFL Europe league.

Nowland says the experience has been good professionally as well as personally. "I think the level of competition is really good," he says. "I think there is a lot of talent here, players who fell through the cracks. They are here trying to prove themselves, whatever the case might be. There is some exceptional talent here, I believe.

"We don't try to do too much so the offenses and defenses are toned down so you are actually seeing what a player's potential is because the teams are not out there trying to confuse someone," Nowland adds. "The competition is phenomenal, I think."

The Galaxy has a 6-2 record and has wrapped up its home season. The former Auburn center says the fans really get into the action and his road game this Saturday night should be one of the more interesting ones. "It gets really loud when the home team's defense is on the field because everybody in the stands has whistles," he notes. "That was the biggest thing I had to get used to with 40,000 whistles on every play. You just have to go out and really focus on what you are supposed to do. This week will be a big test. We have Rhein at Rhein next and I hear that stadium gets really loud."

Nowland lives at a hotel with teammates in a town on the outskirts of Frankfurt, one of the major business centers of Germany and Europe. "I like the city," Nowland notes. "I don't have a lot of free time to go out exploring, but I like the parts of the city I have seen. I just hop on a train and go downtown to a shopping district. The subway system is really good and it is very convenient. It makes it extremely easy to get around. I just walk down to the station and don't have to worry about driving."

Occasionally he does roam farther afield. One of those trips came on his day off this week. "We are getting out and seeing things," he says. "On Monday, we took a sightseeing boat tour on the Rhine River. It was spectacular. We saw at least eight castles up on the rocks. That was a lot of fun."

However, Nowland is in Europe on business and that has been a success so far. "The season has gone pretty well for me," he says. "We had a few injuries and I had to take some reps at tight end so I haven't played as much center as I would have liked. I have also got some reps at guard and a lot of people have said that I can play guard so hopefully that will help me out going into training camp."

Nowland (left) works in a blocking drill while playing for the Tigers.

The rest of the season, Nowland expects to play only center or guard, which is where he wants to see action to show the Redskins he is good enough to play in the NFL in 2004. "This league is definitely helping me get ready for that," he says.

Nowland jumped at the opportunity to play in the league. "My biggest concern was getting allocated over here for a waiver," he explains. "I think that will be a great benefit because that is what bit me in the hiney in San Francisco. They had three guys who were allocated centers from Europe and they didn't count toward the roster (limit) so I wanted that roster exemption myself.

"It is also a good opportunity to prove myself even if I don't make it with the Redskins because a lot of NFL people will get to see what I did because it is all on film," he says. "In NFL preseason games, you don't necessarily get a lot of reps, but here they get what is considered NFL quality film that they can take and watch what you do. It is just like building a resume.Hopefully, I can prove myself to the league."

Playing on a winning team has made the spring in Europe even better, Nowland says. "One thing that is really surprising is the chemistry of this team. The coaches were actually talking about that. Everybody here actually cares about what they are doing and about winning. In our first game against Amsterdam, they didn't seem to care if they won or lost. That is what is different here. With the coaches and players, there is a good work ethic here and good chemistry. Our players are a tight-knit group and our offensive line clicks together real well. It is pretty interesting. It is a fun time."

Ben Nowland

The Galaxy has proven to be a popular team for fans to watch. The team has good attendance and players like Nowland do public relations work to help make that happen. "They try to spread out everybody so we are all involved in that," Nowland says. "They normally have three or four promotions a week. They get two players and then kind of go through the whole team. I recently had an opportunity to go to what would be a middle school back home and talk to sixth graders with linebacker Dustin Cohen. That was a lot of fun. The kids got to ask questions and we taught them a little bit about football. It was cool."

Nowland says the fans seem to have a fairly good understanding of the game. It has been a pretty popular sport in Frankfurt," he says. "Since the start of the league, Frankfurt has pretty much had the biggest crowds and the fans seem to know what is going on. In programs there are articles about the rules and how to play the game and there are video screens at the stadiums to help educate them on how the game works. Our team has averaged 29,000 fans per game. Half of our stadium is closed now due to construction. We pack out both end zones and one side. The other side is completely closed off."

Soon after the world bowl, Nowland will fly back to his home in St. Augustine, Fla., and will have several weeks to get ready for his NFL training camp with the Redskins. "Playing for the Galaxy has been a good experience," he says. "It is interesting to get to come to Europe for three and a half months and play football."

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