Scots teen trades rugby for American football

HE is a young Scot who is raising eyebrows and scoring points in a blossoming career in American football even he admits is “weird”.

Jamie Gillan (no 69) in action playing for Arkansas University team the Golden Lions at Pine Bluff. Picture: Contributed

But the unorthodox style of Jamie Gillan, who has convinced his coaches across the Atlantic to let him kick the ball as he were playing rugby, is winning a host admirers.

After just a handful of games in the US, the teenager has been snapped up by a leading college team on a lucrative full scholarship worth nearly £100,000.

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Despite bamboozling teammates with his kicking style, honed during his years playing rugby in Edinburgh, his exploits with the Golden Lions - the team representing the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff have been a major talking point.

Now, he has his sights set on plying his trade in the National Football League, the sport’s top tier.

It comes less than three years after Gillan helped his former Scottish school team, Merchiston Castle, claim victory in the Brewin Dolphin Scottish Schools’ Cup U16s final, with a 10-5 win over Strathallan.

After starring as a full back for Merchiston, Gillan relocated with his family to the US two years ago after his father, Colin, who serves with the RAF, was posted to Naval Air Station Patuxent River, a naval air station in St Mary’s County, ­Maryland.

After joining the local high school, Gillan, from Inverness, started playing the British variation of football, but halfway through last year, heard that the school’s US football team, the Raiders, were on the lookout for a promising kicker.

The 18-year-old was not put off by the fact he had never played the game. “I honestly had no ambitions to play US football, but I put myself forward because they were desperate,” he recalled.

“I had a trial where I put the ball on the 40 yard line and was told, ‘You’re not going to make that’. But I absolutely hammered it and it went down the middle. The coach said to me, ‘You’re on the team’.”

Having based his kicking style from former England international Jonny Wilkinson, Gillan stood out on the field. Instead of taking three steps back and two to the side, as most US footballers do, he adopted Wilkinson’s trademark approach, facing the ball at a 45-degree angle and taking four steps back with a more rounded approach.

It was to prove a successful strategy. After just five games, coaches for the prestigious Golden Lions saw a video of him playing and called him on the spot to offer him a full scholarship with the Division 1 side. He is now playing week in week out while studying for a major in business.

Last week against Texas Southern, Gillan scored field goals of 29 and 36 yards and his head coach, former Washington Redskins linebacker, Monte Coleman, is happy for him to continue in his own inimitable way.

“People play football for years striving to get a full scholarship and something like less than one per cent of the college football population receive any kind of scholarship funding at all,” Gillan added. “It’s weird for me as this random Scottish kid to get a full education paid for.”