Former American college basketball player turned St Kilda Saint, Jason Holmes, probably felt a bit strange when the siren sounded to end his debut game against Geelong on Saturday night Australian time and the game just ended there. With the scores tied at 97 points apiece, the 6'8" (203cm) Chicago native could have been excused for expecting "overtime". The lack of extra time is one of the idiosyncrasies of Australian rules football. Ties, though unusual, are an accepted result after four hard fought quarters of footy. The quirky result aside, Holmes' debut was a success. Saints' coach Alan Richardson praised the work ethic of his American recruit. It was Holmes' ruck work that stood out, with his vertical leap and all-round athleticism drawing parallels to Nic Naitanui of the West Coast Eagles - who most experts agree is the most exciting ruckman in the competition. On the heels of Holmes, another American is on the verge of his debut.
Holmes is not a monster by any means at 203cm. However he has joined what is becoming a wave of super-talented athletes who can not only cause chaos in the ruck, but also play forward, back and “on the ball” as tall midfielders. It will no doubt take Holmes a while to learn positioning, how his teammates play and to hone his skills. However the ex-basketball player has the tools to become one of an increasing number of “super-utility” players that have the flexibility to be used in a number of different roles depending on the game situation. While Naitanui already possesses the skills to cause opposition coaches headaches all over the ground, Geelong’s Marc Blicavs - who came from an elite athletics background (steeplechase) - is on his way to emulating similar feats. Holmes could, in time, develop into such a player, the ultimate weapon who can be deployed where his team needs him most at any time during a game.
While the dust is only just settling on Holmes' debut, Australia is about to welcome another American into the ranks of the AFL. Mason Cox of Collingwood may, just 15 months since putting pen to paper and signing with Collingwood become the second US born player to reach the top level of Aussie rules. It appears Cox’s performances in the VFL (minor league), combined with the Magpies' exit from the Finals race,may hand the 211 cm American his chance to debut as early as this Friday night in Round 22.
Jason Holmes is the prototypical size football “athlete” at 203cm, Cox projects more of a true ruck or key forward with his towering 6'11" (211 cm) frame, equal to that of Fremantle’s ruckman Aaron Sandilands. Recruited from Oklahoma State University after a sensational performance at the 2014 AFL combine in Los Angeles, Cox has made amazing progress in learning the game in a short period of time. No less than five AFL clubs tried to convince Cox to join them after the gun basketball and soccer star turned heads at the combine with his incredible test results. Cox scored the highest vertical leap in 20 years of AFL testing and showed speed and agility belying a man of his size, completing the 20 meter sprint in just three seconds flat.
Team mates at Collingwood have marveled at the speed with which Cox’s kicking skills have improved. From not having kicked an Aussie rules football just 15 months ago, he is now able to hit his team mates on the chest with perfect drop punts from long range. Cox put his skills on show last Saturday when he starred for Collingwood’s VFL affiliate, kicking five goals as a key forward against Richmond in a display that coach Dale Tapping described as “exciting”. After a relatively quiet first half, Cox dominated the contest late, taking strong marks kicking impressive goals.
There is a realistic chance that Collingwood will select Cox for his first game this Friday night as the Pies look to the future after a disappointing 2015 season. If they do pick the mechanical engineer, who has a job at ExxonMobil waiting for him back home, to debut in the famous black and white Magpies' strip, it may be the start of a long and impressive AFL career. Not bad for a guy who was dreaming only 18 months ago of becoming a Dallas Maverick, and now may instead be a cult figure for hundreds of thousands of rabid Collingwood fans.
One thing is certain. With Jason Holmes already showing his wares and Cox not far behind, Aussie football fans may get used to seeing talent from the USA continue to make their mark on the national game. What's surprising is that it took 20 years from the founding of the USAFL and AFANA for it to happen. A reminder of how far the sport has had to come in the USA in that time and how long it has taken the AFL to accept Americans into the game.
Article last changed on Wednesday, August 26, 2015 - 12:07 PM EDT