London’s lit for new NFL ambassador JuJu


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JuJu Smith-Schuster and former NFL player Jason Bell, Tuesday in London. - NFL U.K.

Much like the Steelers as they prepare to head to training camp at the end of the month, Big Ben is under construction.

JuJu Smith-Schuster learned that while in London as an ambassador for the NFL Academy there this week.

The Steelers' star receiver was one of several NFL players who were in the capital city of the UK to help with a combine-style tryout for the first-ever class at the NFL Academy, which will be run out of the new Tottenham Hotspur Stadium there.

"It's my first trip to the UK," Smith-Schuster said Tuesday from London via conference call. "I did get to see Big Ben, but it's under construction. I took a picture of it and sent it to Ben (Roethlisberger)."

Roethlisberger, of course, has seen London's famous clock tower himself, having played in the city in 2013 when the Steelers faced the Vikings there.

Despite not having been there before himself, Smith-Schuster was surprised how many people recognized him on the streets. It was almost even in terms of recognition between Smith-Schuster and teammate Christian Scotland-Williamson, a UK native who spent the 2018 season on the Steelers' practice squad as part of an international player program. Other NFL stars such as Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes and Browns receiver Odell Beckham Jr. also are in attendance.

"It's pretty even between me and Christian," Smith-Schuster said. "He's from here. But I was surprised how many people knew me. It's fairly even.

"I was surprised. In the states, it's more common for people to come up to you and show love. Here, when I'm walking down the streets and they come up and say, 'Yeah, you're really good.' That's shocking to me. It happened four, five, six times my first day here. And then, meeting the guys, they all watch. They showed so much love. It's awesome."

The 22-year-old receiver is a budding superstar in the league as he enters his third season and isn't that much older than the players who were trying out to be the first class at the NFL Academy. The academy will instruct the players who make the cut further about the game, with the hope being to generate more interest in the sport overseas and perhaps find some diamonds in the rough.

How long it takes to teach the young players about the game remains to be seen. Smith-Schuster said in the few days he's been in London, the young men have picked things up quickly.

"It's so cool to see the interest and the eagerness in their eyes and how much they want to learn about American football," Smith-Schuster said. "They're super excited to learn the game. They get the technique down. They're very good listeners."

And he'd like to return as a player if the Steelers get an opportunity.

The NFL has committed to playing two games per year through 2028 at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, so there's a good chance that will happen for Smith-Schuster.

"I wish I had a chance to see more but I'm leaving (Wednesday)," Smith-Schuster said. "Tottenham Stadium is really amazing. I wish I had a chance to play here next year or even in years to come."

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• Related: Game slowing down for Scotland-Williamson

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