A TRIO of American imports is helping Bendigo Dragons to hit the ground running in pre-season.
Ian Juede, Tarrence Bell and Michael Dell have touched down in Bendigo, bringing with them a mix of college and semi-professional playing experience and coaching qualifications.
All will have dual roles with the Dragons as players and coaches.
Juede, who classes himself as an Arizona native, joins the Dragons following a two-year career with Colorado Mesa University, where he played as a wide receiver and running back.
The 25-year-old, who is switching positions to become the team’s quarterback, was a former college team-mate of the Dragons’ 2017 season import and assistant coach Jeremy Aquino.
He said he was excited by the prospect of mixing quarterback duties with those as an offence coach.
“I came over with the thoughts of playing receiver and some running back and mainly help coach, but with an injury at the position I’ve been chosen to stand up and lead the offence,” he said.
Juede, who grew up in a military family and moved states often as a young child and teenager, said he had no second-thoughts about playing in Australia.
His participation in privately organised practice sessions has resulted in him running routes for a string of current and former NFL quarterbacks, including Donovan McNabb, Brock Osweiller, Christian Ponder, Colin Kaepernick and Tim Tebow.
Unlike his import teammates, Juede arrived armed with at least some prior knowledge of Bendigo, specifically the city’s greatest gridiron export.
“One of my high school teammates, who was a long-snapper for the punters, he went to the University of Arkansas and was actually teammates with Sam Irwin-Hill, who’s from here,” he said.
Bell makes his way to Bendigo after an impressive college career at Mayville State University, North Dakota and coaching career at Hillcrest High School in Country Club Hills, Illinois, just outside his native Chicago.
He will play defensive end and linebacker this season.
Bell was confident he could bring great football experience and leadership to a Dragons team looking to return to the playoffs after missing out in 2017.
“I’ve been coaching high school football the last four years since I’ve been out of college football and I just love football,” he said.
“It’s been my passion and I love teaching the game.
“I never thought in a million years I would one day end up playing and coaching football in Australia, but I am going to make the most of it.
“There’s a lot of talent on this team and I am confident we can make a very good push for a championship this year.”
Bell, an unabashed Chicago Bears fan, who will coach on both sides of the ball, said he was impressed with the skill-level, dedication and knowledge of the game of his fellow imports.
That includes Dell, who hails from San Antonio, Texas, and made his name as a safety and wide receiver at Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas.
The 25-year-old year-old, who played two years in Topeka, before crossing to Pittsburgh State University, where he graduated with an exercise science degree, has spent the past three years playing semi-professional arena football with Kansas Sentinels.
Dell said he was itching to get back to the more traditional form of gridiron and saw his move to Australia as a chance to fulfil a long-held ambition to play overseas.
“Not many people get that opportunity, so I thought I’d knock that one off my bucket list,” said.
“After this, for my future, I’d like to spend some time playing and coaching ball in Europe.
“The Dragons are keen for their imports to coach and I have no problem with that.
“I have been playing defensive back for 15 years, so I know the position well and feel I’m able to share my experience with the younger guys and hopefully get them learning more.”
It’s his first time outside of the United States for Dell, who confessed to previously having only been familiar with Melbourne and Sydney in terms of Australian cities.
But he said his first impressions of Bendigo were nothing but glowing.
“Everyone is really nice – the city is beautiful and the one main road (High Street) to get everywhere is pretty convenient,” he said.
“There are no complaints about Bendigo.
“For one, It doesn’t snow, so I’m a fan of that. It snows a ton in Kansas and it seems like I’m always chasing winter.
“There’s still a month or two before we get into games here, but we are looking solid.”
For more on the Dragons, or to register interest in playing, visit the club’s Facebook page.