NTX Devils bring Aussie rules to Plano

The Dallas Cowboys team is the undisputed king of the Dallas-Fort Worth professional sports landscape, but there is another brand of football being played in DFW. The Plano-based North Texas Devils hope to grow Australian-rules football in Collin County and beyond.

Founded in October 2020, the Devils, who play in the United States Australian Football League, began practicing in February at Old Shepard Place Park in Plano. The team’s inaugural season began in May.

That start date was delayed, but the Devils played its first match June 19 in Arlington against the Dallas Dingoes, a team in existence for more than two decades.

Dallas prevailed, but Devils president and head coach James Henderson was pleased. 

“It was our first game,” he says. “We had 22 players take the field. We have a squad now of close to 40, and we get 20-25 to every practice, which is pretty decent for a new team and a sport people don’t know very well.”

The Devils, named for the Tasmanian devil, one of Australia’s most iconic animals, had 15 players against Dallas who had never played Aussie rules. One player learned how to pass during pre-game warmups. 

“It’s a gigantic field, and I think the guys got a little in their positions, especially playing against a team that has been around for a while,” Henderson says. “A little more experience and work on skills for some of the guys will go a long way when we see that team for a second time again in September.”

NTX DevilsTeam photoAbout three weeks ago, the Devils had its first exhibition match, attracting about 50 spectators.  Turnout in Arlington was a bit lower, but still solid. 

“For a brand-new club, this is not a sport in the U.S. that is attracting crowds. We probably got about 40 there on Saturday,” Henderson says. “The other club has been around about 25 years and probably had about six people watching. We’re on the right trajectory as far as getting people engaged.”

Henderson is an Australian who grew up with the sport before coming to the States. He calls Aussie rules a hybrid sport combining elements of American football, basketball, lacrosse and rugby. 

The top league Down Under, the Australian Football League, features one DFW athlete in Mason Cox, a Highland Village native who has played for Collingwood Football Club since 2015. 

Cox’s presence in the AFL has helped raise the sport’s visibility in the metroplex, something Henderson and the Devils want to tap, along with the sizeable number of native Aussies who call Collin County home. 

Even though the Devils lost its first match, Henderson is encouraged that even after that defeat, spirits among his players remain high. 

“The score was a blowout. My focus has been on creating a community and a culture, almost the entire team came to our sponsor bar afterward,” Henderson says. “The texts flying around our group have been amazing. The positive response has been like no other club I’ve seen. You’d think you’d have some guys that are dejected because we lost by a lot. It’s been the absolute opposite response. I’ve been pretty impressed with how they’ve come back from it.”

Henderson has been pleased with how many players have been practicing thus far but would like to raise the level of athleticism on the field in the future.

“Our oldest player is 53, and we have guys in their 40s. I’d say 80 percent of the people we’re getting have not heard of the game or played it before,” he says. “We’re starting to shift our focus from having enough people to having more athletic people. We need to start lowering our average age to get more athletes in.”

On July 17, the Devils hosted Austin and Tulsa in their first home match, which will likely be played in Plano. The three teams will play each other once in a round-robin competition. On Aug. 21, Arlington will host a sub-regional tournament featuring some of the region’s top teams, including the Devils. 

“We’ve got the Denver women’s team coming, Houston, Austin, Oklahoma, Baton Rouge, a whole bunch of teams in this South-Central region,” Henderson says. “Should be about 12 teams participating.”

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