CLEVELAND — When football teams try to exhaust the clock while holding a lead late in games, they call running plays, which has been described as “taking the air out of the football,” metaphorically speaking of course.
But the Cleveland Browns have a new special-teams player, Jamie Gillan, who literally took the air out of several footballs while training for his pro day at the University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff.
“It was in like the January time, so I’m guessing it was just cold and I’m kicking them as hard as I do,” Gillan recalled after a rookie minicamp practice. “I practice quite a lot of the time in the morning. I try to get the conditioning in. Earlier this year in Arkansas, it was like 16 degrees outside, so I wake up at five in the morning, go practice and I just bought these NFL balls.
“They’re like $100 a piece, and I went out two days later, and as I was kicking, I could hear the air coming out of three out of the four. I was like, ‘Oh, man,’ so I treated the last one with a lot of care until the Browns sent me some footballs, which was awesome.”
Gillan even tried to return the deflated footballs, but to this point, nothing has come of those efforts.
“Yeah, I did,” Gillan said of seeking a return. “I tried to because I called Wilson and stuff. I was like, ‘I just popped three of your balls. What do I do?’ They were like, ‘Return it.’ I tried to return it and I didn’t get anything back from them.”
When the Browns and San Francisco 49ers heard of Gillan’s plight, they tried to make right the situation, as each team sent him six new footballs to use while preparing for evaluations in front of NFL scouts and decision-makers.
“It was like Christmas,” Gillan recalled. “I had 12 footballs, the most footballs I’ve ever had.
“That was before my private workout, about a week before that because (the Browns) had called me, and I said, ‘I only have one football.’ They said, ‘Well, we might need more than that for a private workout,’ so that’s when I got them.”
After the initial salvo of punting with NFL footballs, Gillan has been able to keep the air in them and showcase the kind of skills that led to him being offered a scholarship, sight-unseen, after just one season of high school football.
Known as “The Scottish Hammer,” a nickname given to him by a high school coach, Gillan was a standout special-teams player for Arkansas-Pine Bluff.
During his final year in college, Gillan launched 71 punts for 3,015 yards, with 21 kicks being fair-caught, another 27 landing inside the opponent’s 20-yard line and 19 that travelled at least 50 yards. Gillan averaged 42.46 yards per kick and had a long punt of 80 yards.
Additionally, Gillan converted 20 of his 29 field goal attempts, including a 10-of-11 mark between 30 and 39 yards and six-of-eight record between 40 and 49 yards.
“Not at all,” Gillan said on thoughts of being drafted. “I didn’t even expect free agent. I never expect anything where I’m at right now. I understand that two months ago, no one even knew my name.”