CLEVELAND — The route from Inverness, Scotland to the National Football League is a winding one, at least for Cleveland Browns punter Jamie Gillan.
A native of a town near Inverness in The Scottish Highlands, Gillan moved to the United States with his father, a member of the Royal Scots Navy, when he was 16 years old, and the rugby/soccer player quickly worked his way onto the football team at Leonardtown High School in Leonardtown, Maryland.
“I showed up to a football game and I watched a kicker,” Gillan recalled. “He didn’t make the extra point. It hit the back of the offensive linemen and stuff. I went up to the coach after the game and said, ‘I have a rugby playing background. I’ve been able to do a torpedo punt since I was eight years old. I could do all three for you if you wanted.’
“We went out the next day, and he basically told me, ‘Make the ball spiral.’ So, I made it spiral. ‘Make the ball do that.’ So, I made it do that just joking around, and then, I kicked a long field goal in front of him and he said, ‘Alright, you’re on the team.’ I played five games of high-school football, two all-star games.”
Despite a limited exposure to college football coaches, Gillan originally committed to play at Bowie State, but when an offer from the University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff came through Facebook, he leapt at the chance to play Division I ball.
“I didn’t care where I was going,” Gillan said. “He said, ‘D-I full scholarship,’ so I’m right there. Free weight room, free balls to kick, free food, I’m happy.
“I’m not going to lie to you. I had never heard of the state of Arkansas in my life before they called. So, I answered it, they said, ‘This is the University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff. We’re offering you a full scholarship.’ I said, ‘Cool, what division?’ He said, ‘D-I,’ and I accepted. He said, ‘That’s it?’ I said, ‘Yeah, when do I show up?’ I showed up a couple days later, signed the papers. That was definitely a culture shock, but I didn’t care about that. I get to play football.”
Despite the differences between rugby and football, Gillan adjusted well to the college game.
During his final year at Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Gillan launched 71 punts for 3,015 yards, with 21 kicks being fair-caught, 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.
And if Gillan has to once again channel his rugby days, he is more than willing to do so.
“It wasn’t too hard,” Gillan said. “There’s not much difference, just with being more stationary. It was nice.
“With my old special-teams coach, we were able to have a rugby-style punt just to keep the punt-return team on their feet, but I’ve always preferred doing the natural American style with just a little bit of a rugby flare to it. I do miss rugby, but I played a couple times during college as well, so it’s still in my back pocket.”