Australians in American football

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Former Australian rules footballer Saverio Rocca on the field prior to a game against the San Francisco 49ers on 12 October 2008

Australians in American football include not just a number of successful football code converts, but also a number of players with high profiles either before or as a result of their switching codes.

In Australia, there is an almost equal fascination, among the media and general public, of players linked to the National Football League (NFL) as there is for the Irish experiment.

Although Australians have participated at the highest level of American football, since the success of Darren Bennett as a punter and more recently Ben Graham, several athletes from Australian rules football, rugby league and rugby union have been linked to potential NFL careers.

The punting specialist position requires similar skills to those used in Australian Rules football. Salaries are up to five times higher and the position lends itself to longevity: Australian football players generally retire at around 30, whereas American football punters can play well into their 40s (in fact, one of the players listed below, Darren Bennett, played 11 seasons in the NFL after leaving behind an Australian rules career when he was nearing 30). Initially Australians sought out American football careers,[1] although now NFL scouts are more often actively seeking punters from Australia.[2][3]

The first Australian to play American Football at a meaningful level was former Australian rules footballer Pat O'Dea in 1898 who was a College Football Hall of Fame player.

Gridiron in Australia is only at amateur level, so the pathway for Australians to NFL teams is typically limited to other professional Australian sports. For almost a decade, the NFL has placed full-time development officers in Australia, including Australian rules football hopeful Dwayne Armstrong. There is a full-time punting academy in Australia, Prokick Australia, run by former NFL free agent Nathan Chapman, which is aimed at training and assessing talented punters from Australia for positions in major U.S. colleges and the NFL.

More recently, the Ray Guy Award, presented to the top punter in NCAA Division I FBS football, was won by Australians in five consecutive seasons—by Tom Hornsey in 2013, Tom Hackett in 2014 and 2015, Mitch Wishnowsky in 2016, and Michael Dickson in 2017. Hornsey played for the University of Memphis, Hackett and Wishnowsky for the University of Utah, and Dickson for the University of Texas. In the 2018 season, 30 FBS teams[2] and about 35 teams in the second-tier Division I FCS[3] had Australian punters.

Australian sportsmen recruited by NFL teams[edit]

a) brought to the US by an NFL team
b) spent time training with an NFL team
c) played in a NFL pre-season game
d) offered an NFL contract by a team
e) spent time on an NFL roster
Australian sportsmen formerly associated with NFL team highlighted in blue played at least one game in the NFL
Australian sportsmen highlighted in green are currently on an NFL roster
Australian sportsmen highlighted in yellow are currently on an NFL practice squad
Recruited Player Original sport Original team/position Initial NFL team NFL debut NFL games played Notes
2019 Valentine Holmes Rugby League Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks New York Jets
2019 Mitch Wishnowsky Aussie Rules Utah San Francisco 49ers 110th overall pick in the fourth round of the 2019 NFL Draft.[4]
2018 Jordan Mailata Rugby league South Sydney Rabbitohs Under 20s team Philadelphia Eagles 233rd overall pick in the seventh round of the 2018 NFL Draft.[5]
2018 Michael Dickson Australian Rules Football University of Texas Seattle Seahawks 2018 3 Drafted by the Seattle Seahawks in the fifth round, 149th overall, of the 2018 NFL Draft.[6]
2017 Cameron Johnston Australian Rules Football Ohio State Philadelphia Eagles 2018 3 Signed with the Philadelphia Eagles as an undrafted free agent on 11 May 2017.[7][8][9] He was waived on 2 September 2017.[10] He signed a reserve/future contract with the Eagles on 3 January 2018.[11]
2016 Adam Gotsis Monash Warriors (Gridiron Victoria) &

Australian Rules Football (juniors)

Georgia Tech Denver Broncos 2016 48- 2nd Rnd, 63rd overall pick in the 2016 draft. The highest ever for an Australian.

Plays Defensive End.

2016 Lachlan Edwards Australian Rules Football Sam Houston State University [12] New York Jets 235th overall pick in the seventh round at the 2016 NFL draft.
2016 Tom Hackett Australian Rules Football - Scotch College, Melbourne University of Utah [12] New York Jets Signed as an undrafted rookie on 1 May 2016 and waived on July 28, 2016 after the team re-signed quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. In Salt Lake City the 23-year-old won two Ray Guy Awards and earned two Consensus All-American selections and All-Pac-12 1st Team 2013, 2014, 2015 and named in the Pac-12 All-Century team.
2016 Joel Wilkinson Australian Rules Football Gold Coast Suns (played 26 games for the Suns from 2011 to 2013) [12] Arizona Cardinals The Cardinals signed the 24-year-old, who used to play for the Gold Coast Suns, as a cornerback.[12]
2015 Jarryd Hayne National Rugby League Parramatta Eels (2006-2014) San Francisco 49ers 2015 8 March 3, 2015, 49ers sign Hayne's as a running back (undrafted free agent), three-year contract with US$100,000 guarantee.[13]
2015 Jordan Berry Western Crusaders [14] (Gridiron Victoria) Australian Rules Football (Calder Cannons TAC Cup under-18s) College Football scholarship with Eastern Kentucky University Pittsburgh Steelers 2015 16 Steelers sign punter Berry to their offseason roster in April.[15][16] Berry was a three-time All-OVC punter and part of a punting unit that ranked first in the OVC and fifth nationally (FCS) in net punting at 39.08 yards per punt in 2014.
2015 Sam Irwin-Hill Australian Rules Football (Bendigo Pioneers TAC Cup under-18s) College Football scholarship with University of Arkansas Indianapolis Colts Colts sign punter Sam a two-time Ray Guy Award candidate on a tryout basis in the rookie mini-camp - undrafted free agent.[17] Best known for his memorable 51-yard touchdown against Texas A&M in September 2014. Colts cut the Arkansas graduate and, after being waived by a couple of teams, he signed with San Diego Fleet in October 2018.
2014 Tom Hornsey Australian Rules Football (Geelong Cats - VFL) College Football scholarship with University of Memphis Dallas Cowboys Hornsey went undrafted in the 2014 NFL Draft after winning the Ray Guy Award last season - presented annually to the nation's top college punter.[18] Played preseason with Dallas Cowboys, waived August 26, 2014 after 2 games. Hornsey took part in the New York Jets’ rookie minicamp in the spring of 2014.[19] Cowboys re-Sign Hornsey as possible competition for restricted Jones - Feb 17, 2015 [20]
2014 Alex Dunnachie Australian Rules Football (Victorian Amateur Football Association) College Football scholarship with University of Hawaii. Banyule under-19's (VAFA) 2008 New York Jets Dunnachie went undrafted in the 2014 NFL Draft. Was unsuccessful in competing for Jet punting spot. He averaged 46.2 yards per punt, which was fourth-best in the nation in 2013.[21] Dunnachie landed a spot punting for the SoCal Coyotes in a 1AAA league in the USA.
2013 Brad Wing Australian Rules Football (Sandringham Dragons TAC Cup under-18s) College Football scholarship with LSU New York Giants 2014 32 Wing went undrafted in the 2013 NFL Draft and was signed by Philadelphia Eagles. After being released by the Eagles - August 25, 2013, Wing played a preseason game with New England Patriots and Carolina Panthers. Added to Pittsburgh Steelers team roster for 2014 season on a 1-year/$420k contract, including an annual average salary of $420,000. He became the first Australian to throw for points in the NFL (threw a two-point conversion).[22] 2016-17 season starts with the Giants giving Wing a 3-year/$6.425 million contract.[23]
2013 Jesse Williams Bayside Ravens Gridiron Club (2005–07) [24] & Queensland Gridiron under-19 Australian National Champions College Football scholarship with University of Alabama & Arizona Western College Seattle Seahawks Williams was taken in the fifth round of the 2013 NFL Draft with the 137th overall selection by the Seattle Seahawks. Williams signed a 4-year/$2.37 million contract, including a $211,052 signing bonus, with $211,052 guaranteed, and an annual average salary of $592,763.[25] First native Australian to win a Super Bowl ring after Seattle's victory in Super Bowl XLVIII . Williams was cut after the 2015 season after battling injury and cancer and failing to make a first team start.[26]
2010 David King Australian Rules Football (semi-professional) Bundoora Football Club (Diamond Valley Football League 2001–2002), Euroa Football Club (Goulburn Valley Football League 2003–2007) & Norwood Football Club (Eastern Football League 2008) [27] New England Patriots He was signed by the New England Patriots April 14, 2010, but was waived June 11, 2010.[28]
2010 Chris Bryan Australian Rules Carlton Football Club (2005–06) & Collingwood Football Club (2007–09), Games: 46. Goal: 19. Position: Ruckman Green Bay Packers 2010 4 Contracted by the Green Bay Packers in 2010, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2010) and New York Jets (2011)*[29][30]
2007 Anthony Rocca Australian Rules Football Sydney Football Club (1995–96) & Collingwood Football Club (1997-2009), Games: 242. Goals: 415. Position: Forward Philadelphia Eagles Signed with the Eagles, however got homesick and returned to Australia[30]
2009 Jy Bond Australian Rules Football Richmond Football Club Miami Dolphins contracted by the Miami Dolphins in 2009
2007 Sav Rocca Australian Rules Football Collingwood Football Club (1992-2000) & North Melbourne Football Club (2001–06) Games: 257. Goals: 748. Position: Forward Philadelphia Eagles 2007 112 Oldest ever rookie in the NFL. Rocca signed a 2-year/$2.24 million contract with the Washington Redskins in 2013, including a $325,000 signing bonus, $325,000 guaranteed, and an annual average salary of $1,120,000.[31]
2005 Ben Graham Australian Rules Football Geelong Football Club (1993-2004), Games: 219. Goals: 145. Position: Forward. Captain: 2000–2002 New York Jets 2005 99 First Australian to play in the Super Bowl. New York Jets (2005–2008), New Orleans Saints (2008), Arizona Cardinals (2008–2011) and Detroit Lions (2011–2012) where Graham signed a 1-year/$890k contract, including a $65,000 signing bonus, and an annual average salary of $890,000.[32]
2004 Mat McBriar Australian Rules Football (Warrnambool & District Football Netball League) Brighton Grammar School Football team & Deakin University Football Club. College Football scholarship with University of Hawaii Dallas Cowboys 2004 141 Went undrafted in 2003. Preseason game with Denver Broncos & Seattle Seahawks in 2003. First NFL game was with the Dallas Cowboys (2003–2011), Philadelphia Eagles (2012) and Pittsburgh Steelers (2013) and de-listed start of the 2014 season. Chargers added McBriar two-time Pro Bowler in December 2014[33] to a 1-year/$955,000 contract.[34]
2006 David Lonie University of California Pole vault, Javelin, Soccer & Water polo. In 2006 competed in the Pan Pacific Games in Perth, Australia, in 1996 as a decathlete and pole vaulter [35] Washington Redskins Signed by Washington as an undrafted free agent in May and released prior to start of season and spent rest of season out of football. In 2007 signed as a free agent by the Packers on Feb. 16, but suffered an ankle injury during the season, placed on injured reserve, then released in October.
2004 Nathan Chapman Australian Rules Football Brisbane Football Club (1993–97) & Hawthorn Football Club (1998, 2000) Games: 76. Goals: 17. Position: Defender (full-back) Green Bay Packers Contracted by the Green Bay Packers and played in 3 pre-season games. Rookie and senior mini-camps with the Chicago Bears.[36]
1995 Darren Bennett Australian Rules West Coast Eagles (1987) & Melbourne Football Club (1989–93). Games: 78. Goals: 215. Position: Forward San Diego Chargers 1995 159 Most successful Australian in the history of the NFL. Third highest average (4 punts) 59.50yrds San Diego vs Pittsburgh, Oct. 1, 1995 (4-238) [37]
1987 Colin Scotts Rugby union Scots College & Australian Schoolboys Rugby team (1981). College Football scholarship with University of Hawaii Arizona Cardinals 1987 7 First Australian to receive an American College Football scholarship in the United States. Drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in the 3rd round (70th overall) of the 1987 NFL Draft. Scott played as a defensive end and tight end in 1987 for the Arizona Cardinals.[38]
1965 Colin Ridgway Track & field scholarship with Lamar Tech (now Lamar University) Australian Olympic and Commonwealth Games High jumper Dallas Cowboys 1965 3 First Australian to play in the NFL. Ridgeway became the first High-jumper to clear seven-foot before accepting a track-and-field scholarship to what is now Lamar University.[39]

Professional Australian sportsmen trialled with NFL clubs[edit]

Professional Australian sportsmen public stating an interest in switching to NFL[edit]

(either during or after their Australian professional careers)

Female players of American football[edit]


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