Three Sussex youngsters have been selected to compete for Great Britain in the European Youth Under-19s Championships.

Chris Percival, Ali Richardson and Oli DeRuyter will fly the flag in Russia from July 23 to August 1.

The Sussex Thunder trio, all 18, earned their call-ups to a 40-strong squad after trials at Oxford.

Percival, captain of Thunder under-19s, said: "The squad has 60 in it at the moment but all three of us have been told by selectors that we will survive the cut. It is fantastic for three guys from the county to get in.

"It was a tough selection process. We did a lot of drills on speed, agility and scrimmaging and must have coped with it okay.

"We can't wait for the Russian trip to come around."

Percival is a convert from football.

He said: "I got bored with football because of all the cheating, like diving to get free-kicks. Gird-iron seems more honest. We play full contact at our level. It is tough but hugely enjoyable."

Percival, a former Blatchington Mill (Hove) pupil, is a corner-back, Richardson (Brighton, Hove and Sussex Sixth Form College) a wide-receiver and DeRuyter (Christ's Hospital, Horsham) a quarter-back.

The Thunder skipper said: "The other two are more like glory boys but we all love our sport.

"Oli has got a lot of experience. He's been playing for two-and-a-half years. He eats sleeps and drinks grid-iron.

"Ali's only been playing six months but seems to be a natural.

"He is 6ft 4in and 14-stone of solid muscle. We call him Superman. He played basketball but I believe grid-iron is his No.1 sport now."

DeRuyter is determined to be the first choice quarter-back in Russia.

He said: "I'm pumped. There will be tough competition but I want that starting place.

"I got in the British squad last year when there was no tournament. I don't want to miss out on this one."

The Sussex trio will feature in a Euro qualifying match against Italy in Birmingham next month.

DeRuyter has picked up an injury to his throwing arm but aims to be fit for Thunder's under-19s friendly against Kent Exiles at Waterhall on April 25.

All the three players helped Thunder lift the NFL Europe five-a-side tournament involving teams from around England.

They also took part in a weekend training camp with Thunder's first team squad at Christ's Hospital, Horsham.

Clubmates Simon Pinchin (Brighton), Lance Nutley (Brighton) and Kenny Cooling (Crawley) have been selected for a Great Britain under-19s reserve squad for Russia.

Thunder head coach Warren Smart, who is also a Great Britain coach, says Sussex's international call-ups could be taking their first steps towards the NFL.

He said: "There is a path into the big time if it all goes right.

"First, we may be able to feed them from Great Britain under-19s into the European league, which has featured NFL players like Kurt Warner and Don Dantehall, through Scottish Claymores, an American Football club which play in the European league. We have connections with them.

"I'm not surprised so many Thunder players have been chosen.

"The club runs its youth and senior set-ups together so we expect our younger players to perform at a higher level.

"Chris is very bright and, confident. He is fast, reads the game well and learns quickly. Chris is a raw talent.

"Oli has a strong arm. He came to us from London Olympians, the best club in the country. Ali is a natural."