Michael Palmer helps take American football to Serbia

FLOWERY BRANCH—Falcons tight end Michael Palmer is popular in Kraljevo, Serbia.

After participating in an American football camp, Palmer recevied the "Captain of Honor" designation from the Kraljevo Royal Crowns, only the second person to be bestowed with their coveted award.

Palmer, who played at Parkview High and Clemson before making the Falcons as an undrafted free agent in 2010, went on the football mission with Parkview coach Cecil Flowe, Parkview athletic director Mark Whitley, Camden County offensive line coach Greg Slattery, Loganville coach Eric Godfree, collegiate licensing executive Dan Brown and Mountain Park First Baptist Church pastor Richard King.

At the end of the six-day mission, Mary Warlick, the U.S. ambassador to Serbia, dropped by to meet Palmer's group and the players, who were from Serbia, Bulgaria, Sarajevo and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

"Richard King, he got to know Josh Hepner, who is a missionary in Serbia," Palmer said. "He's a player-coach for the Royal Crowns. We just got this big group together and taught two, three-day football camps."

American football is growing in popularity in southeastern Europe. In addition to the Royal Crowns, players from the Kragujevic Wild Boars, Bor Golden Bears, Belgrade Wolves, Pancevo Panthers, Belgrade Highlanders, Nis Emperors, Sofia Bears, Sirmium Legionnaires and Sarajevo Spartans were represented.

"They've been doing American football over there for about seven years now," King said. "The first three or four years were without pads. But they have a Serbian League."

Brown presented them with LSU and Virginia Tech jerseys.

"It was really cool because I got to share my faith and my testimony on how I got to where I am today," Palmer said. "I got to tell them a lot about my favorite Bible verses and how my faith in Christ has helped me along the way. Then, we also talked a lot about football."

The group introduced their students to football film study.

"This is nothing like being out there with your coaches and being able to watch film," Palmer said. "That just pushes your game to new level. It's something that has been very helpful."

They also gave them talent-assessment tools and drills.

"They really want to be coached," King said. "They want to learn how to play football."

The group plans to return next offseason to conduct another football mission.

"It was an amazing time," King said. "We used the platform of football, but at the same time we wanted them to know about our faith."

Palmer believes that he found his post-football calling during the mission.

"We had a blast," Palmer said. "I loved it especially because the more I think about it, I want to become a high school coach when I'm done playing. So, it was a nice experience for me, just to be able to coach some and learn from some good high school coaches, who can help me out and teach me a few things."

When the Falcons reconvene for training camp in late July, Palmer hopes to solidify his spot as the team's No. 2 tight end behind Tony Gonzalez. He has flashed his pass-catching ability with 15 career catches for 101 yards and two touchdowns, but was asked by the coaching staff to improve as a blocker.

"I'm much stronger, and it's a credit to [athletic performance] coach [Jeff] Fish and these new workouts that we are doing with kettle bells," Palmer said. "Then [tight ends] coach [Chris] Scelfo, who has a background as an offensive line coach, he's helped me a lot with that."