On Campus, Sport, Featured

20th February 2023

Liverpool Raptors: The Road to Division One

Follow the Liverpool Raptors American Football team’s 2022/23 promotion season

After taking Division Two by storm with their 7-0 victories, the Liverpool Raptors proved that they were ready to fight in Division One! After winning two back-to-back Division Two Northern Championship Conferences, the Raptors worked harder than ever to secure that special promotion spot in the league tables. Not only did they prove that they have what it takes for Division One, but the Raptors scored themselves a third Championship title, in March 2023.

Image Credit: Photo by John Maher of Mark ‘Rio’ Houghton, Dodi Mendee, Alex Cyril-King and the team

One Step Closer…

Earlier this year, the University of Liverpool’s American Football team secured their promotion spot, after wins against the University of Central Lancashire Rams and Bradford Bears. On Sunday 22nd January, the Raptors took to the field against the Rams. It was clear how much this game meant to them. Their promotion plan needed to be executed to perfection, and it was. After narrowly missing out on promotion in the 2021/2022 season, this team was hungry for Division One and would stop at nothing until they got there.

We know that we deserve to be in Divison One and I believe that we have what it takes to get there.

Connor McFarland, Quarterback.

Image Credit: Photo by John Maher of Ryan Weaver

One Hell of a Season

As a team, their skills and talent shine, as demonstrated through their victories:

  • Bangor Muddogs: 67-0
  • Lancaster Bombers: 41-0
  • York Centurions: 35-7
  • York St. Johns Jaguars: 1-0 (W/O)
  • UCLAN Rams: 34-12
  • Bradford Bears: 56-0
  • Edge Hill Vikings: 1-0 (W/O)


  • Bradford Bears (Quarter-Final): 1-0 (W/O)
  • Nottingham Green (Semi-Final): 21-6
  • Leicester Longhorns (Final): 17-7

One particularly notable win was against the York Centurions. After York had just been relegated from Division One, this was a meaningful win for the team. The Liverpool Raptors got a taste of what Division One was like….and they liked it. The Raptors, and their elite team of coaching staff, had proven that they had what it took to be in Division One. They had finally claimed their spot in the 2023/2024 season of Division One football.

We show up, get the job done and let the scoreline show our work, without getting too cocky.

Akhil Anil, Defensive Line.

Image Credit: Photo by John Maher of Declan Mahoney and George Boret

Promotion Prayers Answered

For the first time in Liverpool Raptors history, the team had been promoted to Divison One! After remaining undefeated for the entirety of the regular season, the team ended on a high with yet another Championship title on the cards, after beating the Nottingham Green team 21-6 in the semi-finals. The March 26th Final brought much glory for the Raptors, defeating the Leicester Longhorns 17-7 and claiming another Conference cup to add to the cabinet.

Quarterback and 2023/2024 season President, Aren McCabe was adamant that the team would make Division One, and he was right. Aren explained, “The only team that can beat us is us. If we switch on at every game nobody in our division can beat us”. True to that, the team remained alert at every game and took the Division by storm. Aren McCabe is a passionate player, vocal and alert on the sidelines, and I am lucky enough to call him my friend.

The team have praised Aren’s positive attitude and passion for the game. A fellow teammate remarked “Aren’s one of the most committed and passionate people on the team. He is everything that you need for a quarterback. He understands his role and always stays competitive for the position. He’s a good laugh but also knows when to tone it down and give me advice on my performance.” (Connor McFarland). It is evident that this team are even more than just a team, they are a family and one that I have had the pleasure to be a part of for this season. Lewis Bowers (Wide Receiver) explained “This team is a family. Everyone works for the team” and that is extremely clear when you see their game day film.

It’s all about being vocal and positive, lifting your teammates and supporting each other.

Connor McFarland, Quarterback.

Image Credit: Photo by Hollie-Anne Hartley of Connor McFarland, Chris Marshall, Derek Chapman, Aren McCabe and Lewis Bowers after the Raptors’ Championship win

Harmony on the Field

As anyone who follows American Football will know, co-dependency is essential. As an offence, the players must not only rely on themselves but also on the defence. It is their job to continue stopping other teams from scoring touchdowns. The Liverpool Raptors have shown the relationship between offence and defence is solid, leading to amazing wins, and overall success. Speaking for the team, George Boret (Safety) revealed “Every position knows exactly what they need to do, and they focus on doing their jobs correctly. That’s why we dominate as everyone does their job perfectly meaning that nobody can break through us defensively or offensively.”

Image Credit: Photo by John Maher of Paul Awini, Fred Evans and Ohio Orumen

Each unit is co-dependent on each other and that relationship is so effective on the field.

Fred Evans, Defensive Line & Kicker.

Support from the Sidelines

Injured in the pre-season, Freddie Wiley (Running Back) has supported his team, every game, from the sidelines. Despite the injury preventing him from playing the sport he loves – he has shown up for his team.

Beating York was the best moment of the last half of this season, for me, as they had come down from Division One and we showed them what we are made of and came out on top.

Freddie Wiley, Running Back.
Image Credit: Photo by Hollie-Anne Hartley of Freddie Wiley

Freddie scored the Liverpool Raptors’ first touchdown in the 2021/2022 Championship game against the Glasgow Tigers and described winning his Championship ring as the “highlight of the season.” Freddie was praised by his teammate, Lewis Bowers: “It shows the strength of Freddie’s character, to stay on the sidelines and support the team when injured.” Continually through injury, Freddie has supported his team, even going on to begin filming a documentary on the season.

With his injury limiting his first half of the season, it “hasn’t been quite what I was hoping to achieve” reveals Freddie. For any player to miss out on their sport through injury is heartbreaking but Freddie has handled it with a positive attitude and it has only willed him more to get back into the game.

Furthermore, Freddie has been praised for mentoring his rookie, Sam Ford (Running Back). Sam revealed that Freddie had been “an inclusive mentor” and “helped (him) to understand the position and the game as a whole.”

Conquering the Centurions

Team Captain, Connor McFarland (Quarterback), made quite the impression by putting together two straight scoring drives. This gave the Liverpool Raptors the lead against the York Centurions. The assist was provided by Ryan Weaver (Wide Receiver). Weaver later recovered a broken play with a second touchdown catch. The bond between Connor McFarland and Ryan Weaver isn’t just on the field, either. The pair are like brothers off the field too. Little would you expect these two extremely athletic players to be caught singing ‘Use Somebody’ by Kings of Leon on karaoke together, but somewhere in the depths of my camera roll, there is proof of this.

Image Credit: Photo by Paul Weaver of Ryan Weaver and Connor McFarland

I have been lucky enough to watch Connor play for almost three years now. His efforts and talent are nothing short of astounding. He gives so much of his heart to this team and it is reflected in the way he plays. Speaking to Connor, he revealed that “the make-or-break moments are what feels the best, seeing our coaches happy after a big play is a great feeling. With all the work they put in, behind the scenes, it means a lot to see them proud on the sidelines”. It was clear that Connor feels his success is owed to each coach representing the Liverpool Raptors.

One particular coach that I had the pleasure of meeting was longstanding Offensive coordinator, Derek ‘Degs’ Chapman. After sitting in on almost every offensive classroom with Degs, it has become even clearer just how much he adores this team. Even more so, this team loves him. Picking up the ‘Coach of the Year’ award at the Raptors’ awards night, Degs gained well-deserved recognition for his pivotal role in the team’s successful promotion.

Our domination of the field comes from preparation and aggressiveness, we go into every game with each player knowing their role and being ruthless laying hits and running hard is what we do best.

Ryan Weaver, Wide Receiver.

Routing the Rams

Lewis Bowers (Wide Receiver) picked up two ‘Most Valuable Player’ titles for special teams and offence after scoring a rushing touchdown. A beautifully crafted trick play by Degs Chapman (Offensive coordinator) gave the Raptors the edge over the Rams. Despite much pre-game tension surrounding the long-lived rivalry between the teams and tempers often flaring throughout the game, a convincing Raptors’ win saw them one step closer to their promotion. This gave the players the feeling that “the hardest challenge was out of the way and promotion was ours to lose” says Lewis Bowers.

The game would not have been the same without the human bull-dozer that is Mahmoud Suraj (Running Back). Having recorded a statistically remarkable season, with no shortage of highlight footage, Mahmoud is an indispensable part of the offense. I have come to know Mahmoud as a Raptor, a colleague and a friend. He has such a friendly personality and his spirit is infectious. I can say, without a doubt, that my university experience has been better for knowing him.

Image Credit: Photo by John Maher of Mahmoud Suraj

In the spotlight, as he often is, Paul Awini (Defensive End) dominated throughout the game. Awini was awarded ‘Player’s Player of the Year’ and ‘Lineman of the Year’, at the Raptors annual awards ceremony. This demonstrated that not only did the coaches recognise his achievements but the players did too. Mahmoud Suraj (Running Back) labelled Paul “an all-round athlete who is a freak of nature”. He emphasised that “every position that he plays seems as if it was designed for him”. Paul is just as motivating off the field as he is on the field. After having known Paul for some time now, I would say that he is one of the most genuinely kind people that I have ever known. He is an extremely missed asset.

Image Credit: Photo by John Maher of Paul Awini and Ryan Howard

Besting the Bears

Securing their lead, Dodi Mendee’s incredible first-play kick return touchdown landed the Raptors their first six points of the game. This wasn’t the first major play for Dodi Mendee, and it certainly wouldn’t be the last. If there is a football flying, believe that Dodi Mendee will be the one to catch it. The now final-year Wide Receiver, who spent some time playing before university, brought undeniable talent and charisma to the team. Dodi made an instant impact and earned the respect of everyone on the team.

Connor McFarland’s stellar performance against the Bradford Bears aided the team’s final step toward Division One promotion, on Sunday 5th February. The Quarterback’s 38-yard rushing touchdown, in the fourth quarter, secured his ‘Most Valuable Player’ title, on the offence, for the game. Connor went into the game saying he had “confidence in both me and my teammates and I know what we are capable of”. As the starting Quarterback, it is Connor’s job to lead in all areas, including the stat line. His experience and natural ability undoubtedly gave the team a massive helping hand in their 56-0 domination over Bradford.

Image Credit: Photo by John Maher of Connor McFarland

The Sweet Taste of Victory

It is often said that the defence wins games, and the offence decides by how much. The Raptors’ defence was infallible, conceding only 32 points across the 10 games they had played – an astounding achievement. Some of the biggest contributors to this stonewall defence were the likes of Ohio Orumen, Ryan Howard, Andy Zhang, Frederick Evans, Seb Collins, Declan Mahoney, George Boret and Chloe Southard. But every defensive player can take some credit for the season’s fabulous outcome.

Image Credit: Photo by John Maher of the Defensive Line

Former AU President, Ohio Orumen (Defensive Tackle) along with Fred Evans (Defensive Tackle) left opposing Quarterbacks shaking in their boots. Meanwhile, Seb Collins (Linebacker) and George Boret (Safety) gave teams no option in the air with a killer pass defence. Andy Zhang (Linebacker) brought the heat with some incredible tackles. Playing on a torn knee ligament throughout the year made Andy’s tackles even more special.

An International Level Defence

Two players, fortunate enough to represent Great Britain, rounded off the star-studded defence. Chloe Southard (Cornerback) has now played in two games for her country. She heavily contributed to the impeccable pass defence with her keen ability to read plays and react accordingly. I can say with certainty that she shuts down any options for the opposing offence. Chloe represents the progress of women in sports. She expressed how amazing it was to play against four other women from the Bangor Muddogs, saying they “had a conversation in the changing room about women in American Football too!”. It is safe to say that Chloe Southard truly represents the empowerment of women in sport and I, for one, would not like to be on the receiving end of her tackles.

Image Credit: Photo by John Maher of Chloe Southard

Ryan Howard (Linebacker) started the season fresh off of the back of an appearance at the Under-19s European Championships. This gave him the confidence to build on an impressive first year. On the field, Ryan displays an indestructible attitude and pushes on despite any adversity. He is a natural-born leader and it comes as no surprise to see him retaining his captain title in this year’s season. He is the true embodiment of ‘run fast, hit hard’ and consistently leaves the opposing offence quaking with fear. His exceptional season led him to an appearance in the All-Stars game, with teammate Dodi Mendee. I hold no doubt in my mind that Ryan ended the year as one of the best defensive players in the league, and arguably the country.

Three-Time Champions

Following a walk-over win, resulting from a forfeit by the Bradford Bears, the Raptors advanced to the Semi-Finals against Nottingham Green. Despite it being a miserable and rainy day for the match, the Raptors pulled out their ninth win of the season, claiming their place in the Final. However, an injury to Quarterback, Connor McFarland, in the last few drives of the game left his fitness to play in the Final in question. If you have ever had the pleasure of meeting the very passionate (and very stubborn) Connor McFarland, you will know that there was never a doubt in his mind that he wouldn’t play on that fateful day. Surely enough, Connor made his return took to the field, and performed as if the injury had never occurred.

Image Credit: Photo by John Maher of Connor McFarland and the Offensive Line

One particularly notable play was Connor’s deep pass leading to Dodi Mendee’s touchdown. Fred Evans secured the Raptors’ lead over the Longhorns with his successful PAT following this. Fred Evans (Defensive Line/Kicker) praised Archie Campbell (Wide Receiver) for his role, emphasising, “The holder doesn’t get enough respect placed on his name!”

This team, this family of players, truly prove that anything is possible if you just put your mind to it. After receiving the ‘Highest Performing BUCS Team’ award at the Athletics Union night, the team was elated. Their award symbolises the hard work and dedication of every individual Raptor. Also, this award signifies so much more than that. It symbolises their collective effort to finally make the jump into Division One.

To conclude this article on the success of our American Football team, I leave you with this sentiment.

‘Joining the Raptors was one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life. I’ve made friends and brothers that will last a lifetime and played a sport I love. I’m dreading graduating this year and leaving the Raptors behind but with the group of people involved, the future can only be bright.’

Aren McCabe (Quarterback & 23/24 President)
Image Credit: Photo by John Maher

Featured Image Credit: Photo by John Maher