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English World Cup winner Jonny Wilkinson inspired Inverness NFL star to reach the top of American Football

By Will Clark

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AS he prepares for the biggest game of his life tonight, Inverness NFL star Jamie Gillan says English rugby world cup winner Jonny Wilkinson was his idol who he modelled his own kicking technique on.

Jamie Gillan playing for the Cleveland Browns.
Jamie Gillan playing for the Cleveland Browns.

The Cleveland Browns punter, who formerly played in the Highland Rugby Club youth set-up, is preparing for the biggest game of his life tonight when the Browns take on reigning Super Bowl champions Kansas City Chiefs in the play-offs.

Gillan has had a metoric rise from playing American football at university to become one of the top punters in the NFL.

Despite growing up in Scotland, he admits Wilkinson, who won the Rugby World Cup with England in 2003 is one of the athletes he admired the most, despite the stick he got for it.

“I still get grief for that, people ask me who is the best fly half and I will say Jonny Wilkinson," he said.

“He is the best in my opinion.

“I watch YouTube and all my research was about Jonny Wilkinson’s highlights.

“I read his book and I loved his mindset of working his nuts off and reading how he used to be out there kicking and kicking and he wouldn’t leave until he makes 10 in a row.

"That was the kind of thing I did in college, you end up spending hours kicking as you don’t want to end up highly critical of yourself.

“Reading everything about him and to the level he got was not him saying should I sit on my couch or go out.

“He said he was getting out and doing something with purpose.

“I love that mindset, even if you fail or something goes wrong at least you can say you did all you can to achieve that goal.

“That’s how I feel about Jonny Wilkinson when I am watching him play.”

Gillan, originally from Inverness, was picked up by the Browns after going undrafted in 2019.

His journey started with playing rugby at Highland, before moving to Merchiston College in Edinburgh and eventually on to the United States, where he switched to American football with the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff.

Upon joining the Browns, he was behind Britton Colquitt – a long established name in the sport – so people may not have expected Gillan to feature much, never mind make the jersey his own.

By last August though, the tables had turned.

Gillan was the undisputed choice to play, and Colquitt left Cleveland to sign for the Minnesota Vikings.

Having made such an impact in his rookie year, the “Scottish Hammer” was named in the Pro Football Writers Association All-Rookie team – the equivalent of an all-star select for players in their first year at the professional level.

Cleveland Browns reached the play-offs for the first time since 2002 when they defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers 48-37 in the wildcard play-offs.

Tonight, in the last eight, they face reigning Super Bowl champions Kansas City Chiefs where they will be going in as huge underdogs.

Despite the significance of the game, where victory would put the Browns one game away from reaching the Super Bowl for the first time, Gillan is determined not to go into the match with the underdogs mindset.

“We can’t think about it like that," he said.

"It’s a normal game in our mind, we know how big the game is how much it means to the town but we have to keep the same mindset. We have to go one and O this week and see what happens on Sunday night.

“Everybody knows the history that could come with this game, but we need to treat it as us against them.

“It’s a normal game for us, let’s keep that mindset and try and go out and win the game.”

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