CAIRO — Steelers Nation could have a few more fans in the Land of the Pharaohs next season.
Steelers running back DeAngelo Williams is among nine former or current NFL players who will conduct a football training camp here this week.
The camp is sponsored by the American Football Without Barriers organization, or AFWB; Williams is its development director.
Egyptians are avid fans of football — the version Americans know as soccer.
Yet, surprisingly, American-style football teams have sprouted here and in other Arab countries in the past few years.
“We are coming to help polish the great athletes in Egypt with our knowledge of football, in the hopes of bettering the program,” Williams told the Tribune-Review.
Williams, 32, was the NFL’s second-oldest running back in 2015, having signed as a free agent last spring, but he became a key member of the Steelers’ potent offense in their run to the second round of the playoffs this past season.
The Egyptian Federation of American Football will host the Americans. The federation has 500 players on three university teams, four independent teams and a women’s team, the Pink Warriors.
A separate entity, the Egyptian League of American Football, fields six teams. Other teams play in Algeria, Jordan, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
Amr Hebbo, a founder of the Egyptian football federation, is “super-excited” the Americans are coming.
“We have been waiting for this for a long time,” Hebbo said. “(Egyptians) are starting to know more about American football and are forming more teams. We are trying to expand as much as we can.”
The federation applied for the training camp in August, he said, and had to assure the NFL that Egypt is safe for the players, despite five years of political turmoil and increased terrorist attacks.
The American players will work with LeBalanda, an organization serving underprivileged communities, and Cairo’s Children’s Cancer Hospital, “because DeAngelo has roles in breast cancer awareness,” Hebbo said.
Williams’ mother and four of his aunts died from breast cancer. In October, the NFL fined him $5,787 for wearing “Find the Cure” eye-black stickers under his eyes, describing it as a uniform violation. Williams’ hair is highlighted in pink to support breast-cancer awareness and to honor his mother.
Williams started the 10 games that star running back Le’Veon Bell missed last season because of suspension or injury, amassing 907 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns.
He is about to enter his 11th pro season with 7,753 career rushing yards and 64 touchdowns for the Carolina Panthers and the Steelers.
The Egyptian federation says it wants to introduce “American football strategies, ethics and values as sport into the Egyptian culture, to compete both on the national and international levels.”
Other NFL players participating in the Cairo training camp, which will run from Wednesday through Saturday, are Cleveland Browns tight end Gary Barnidge and defensive back Johnson Bademosi; free-agent fullback Erik Lorig; New York Jets offensive lineman Breno Giacomini; Miami Dolphins tight end Jordan Cameron; recently retired Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch; and Colby Cameron, quarterback of Japan’s Fujitsu Frontiers.
“We’re trying to break the trend of colleges not recruiting for football internationally. They do for basketball and baseball,” Barnidge, a co-founder of the AFWB, wrote in a Browns press statement. “We’re trying to … give kids the opportunity we had in the States to get a scholarship in the sport they like to play.”
AFWB members have traveled to and held camps in Brazil, China and Turkey.
Betsy Hiel is the Tribune-Review’s foreign correspondent. Staff writer Chris Adamski, who covers the Steelers, contributed to this report. Contact him at [email protected].