Now a young Scot blazing a trail in the world of American football is set to make his debut in the sport’s top tier.
Jamie Gillan, who grew up dreaming of turning out for the Scotland rugby team, will today take to the field for the Cleveland Browns in their first game of the new National Football League (NFL) season.
The 22-year-old, nicknamed the Scottish Hammer on account of his powerful left leg, has edged out Britton Colquitt, a Super Bowl-winning veteran, to take his place in the Ohio team.
In an interview with Scotland on Sunday, Gillan said the journey he had been on so far was “unreal”, but he was ready to knuckle down and help his new teammates to victory.
Less than seven years ago, the Inverness player took to the turf of Murrayfield where he helped secure a 10-5 victory for Merchiston Castle over Strathallan in the Brewin Dolphin Scottish Schools’ Cup under-16s final. He harboured ambitions of one day returning to the home of Scottish rugby wearing dark blue, but in 2013 relocated to the US after his father, an officer in the RAF, was posted to Patuxent River in Maryland.
He first played for his high school before signing for University of Arkansas side Golden Lions, who took him on as a punter, responsible for kicking the point.
Their faith was not misplaced. Gillan went from success to success, impressing with his punts and field goals, secured thanks to a kicking style that owes more to Jonny Wilkinson than it does NFL legends such as Ray Guy or Shane Lechler.
Gillan, however, is modest about his technique’s impact. “It’s a lot different to the eye of an American punt coach and it’s changed a little bit to achieve different goals,” he explains. “But the crowd just want to see great punts.”
Today he will make his debut for the Browns before 67,000 fans and millions more watching on television as they take on the Tennessee Titans. It is a far cry from his days at Merchiston, when a few friends and family stood on the sidelines, but Gillan is unfazed.
He said: “It means a lot to me and my family to make the squad. The journey up until last weekend was unreal, but it’s time to put that behind me and be ready for this season.”
A flicker of what Browns fans can expect came in a pre-season game, when Gillan hoofed a 74-yard punt, with the footage going viral. His goals for the season ahead are simple – “for the team to stay healthy and win games” – but today’s game is the first priority.
“The atmosphere should be bumpin’,” he said. “It should be pretty fun.”