Editor's note: Tony Grossi covers the Cleveland Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR.
Jamie Gillan was a legend before he earned a free-agent contract to Browns rookie camp.
Pony-tailed, speaks with a Scottish brogue, can punt the ball 70 yards left-footed either stationary or moving rugby style, literally kicked the air out of three footballs training on his own, nicknamed “the Scottish Hammer,” earned a scholarship at Arkansas-Pine Bluff through a Facebook invitation without even knowing the state of Arkansas existed.
“Two months ago, nobody even knew my name,” Gillan said. “I have the best representation in America [ISA Sports, founded by two students at Ohio Northern University].”
Gillan grew up in the Scottish Highlands and attended boarding schools while his father worked in the Royal Air Force as a navigator on anti-submarine aircraft.
After his father was relocated to Leonardtown, MD, Gillan rejoined his family, and played high school soccer and rugby. When he attended a football game and saw the field goal kicker shank the ball into his offensive lineman, Gillan volunteered for the job. He was given the job and nicknamed the Scottish Hammer by the coach. Gillan kicked in five games and two all-star contests.
So how did he end up at Arkansas-Pine Bluff?
Gillan verbally committed to Bowie State in Maryland, and then learned of a scholarship opening at Arkansas-Pine Bluff via a Facebook post. He downloaded a video of himself kicking to the application and was offered a scholarship.
“Free weight room, free balls to kick, free food, so I’m happy,” Gillan said. “I’d never heard of the state of Arkansas in my life. On the plane, I pulled out a map and saw Pine Bluff and said, ‘This looks like a decent place.’”
At Arkansas, Gillan punted and place-kicked. In four years, he averaged 42.2 yards per punt. He also made 20 of 29 field goals last season with a long of 47 yards.
Gillan started to gain notice when he won the punting competition at the renowned Arizona Kicking Combine in March.
He also received a big boost when NFL Network featured him on its morning show prior to the draft and compared him to Seattle phenom Michael Dickson, the native of Australia who became the first punter in 35 years to make the Pro Bowl as a rookie in 2018.
Prior to the draft, Gillan was notified of a tryout jointly arranged by the Browns and 49ers. Preparing for the tryout, Gillan said he bought four footballs and three of them deflated after one workout. The Browns and 49ers promptly sent him six apiece.
“It was like Christmas,” he said.
When Gillan went undrafted, 20 teams called to sign him, including the Patriots, whose coach Bill Belichick famously craves punters who are left-footed.
Gillan chose to sign with the Browns for a couple reasons.
“Mr. Priefer and Mr. Dorsey,” he said.
Mike Priefer, Browns new special teams coach, had similar expertise in the U.S. Navy as Gillan’s father – “So we had some conversations,” Gillan said. And John Dorsey, Browns GM, is a native of Leonardtown, MD, right on Chesapeake Bay, where Gillan’s family relocated.
Does Gillan have a chance to stick with the Browns?
“Wait ‘til you see the ball come off his foot,” Dorsey marveled.
The odds are small, for now. But what were the odds of a Scottish rugby player making it to an NFL rookie camp?
Browns veteran punter Britton Colquitt is coming off another typically strong season. But at 34, entering his 10th NFL season, Colquitt’s contract is out of guarantees, and that makes him vulnerable to the newest competitor.
Hell, yeah: Some observations from coach Freddie Kitchens …
* On cornerback Greedy Williams, who seemed to get his hands on more balls, including one interception, on his second practice:
“I think Greedy just needs to continue to get better, just like everybody else. Football is about one-on-one matchups in a team setting. Greedy needs to win his one-on-one matchups. When we’re playing man coverage, the person doesn’t need to catch the ball on Greedy. If balls are getting caught on Greedy, just like Denzel [Ward], it needs to be zone coverage.”
* On an apparent emphasis on special teams in the draft and in undrafted signings:
“The biggest change is we’re going to be better on special teams, I promise you that.”
* On the offensive linemen at the rookie camp, led by sixth-round tackle Drew Forbes of Southeast Missouri State:
“I’ll say this, this may be the best group, in this setting … minicamp, tryout guys, free agent guys … this is the best offensive line I’ve ever been a part of and I’ve been in the league 13 years. I’ve never seen a group collectively this good. We can actually function on offense. Sometimes in this camp setting that’s hard to do.”