In a week where Australians Jason Day (golf), Liam Hendriks (baseball), and Jarryd Hayne (American Football) have hit the headlines with performances in other professional sports, it’s the AFL's turn to return the favor with American born and raised Jason Holmes set to debut as a ruckman for Saint Kilda in the Australian Football League. Holmes will be the second US born player to appear in an AFL game, but the first who was raised in the States. Californian born Sanford Wheeler played 43 games for the Sydney Swans between 1989 and 1994 (he migrated to Australia with his parents at the age of five). After 20 years, it is also thrilling for AFANA and the USAFL to see an American finally make it to the AFL.
Holmes, 25 years old, comes from a college basketball background and turned his attention to the AFL in 2012 after he attended an AFL combine in Los Angeles. He initially thought the call from the recruiter was a prank. The Chicago born native put pen to paper with St Kilda in 2013, and just two and a half seasons on, is preparing to take to the field for the first time against Geelong on Saturday in Round 21 of the AFL season. America is becoming fertile ground for AFL recruiters, with Holmes leading the way for Mason Cox (Collingwood) and Eric Wallace (North Melbourne) who both hope to follow in his footsteps and realize their Aussie dream. Over the past decade a number of other Americans have tried and failed to make it out of lower level leagues in Australia. So far, the only players to get to even the VFL level were recruits. No player out of the USAFL has received an AFL rookie offer.
Holmes comes from a talented sporting family. His father is a former college basketballer. One brother Justin plays basketball in France and the other (Andre) pulled down four touchdown passes for the Oakland Raiders in 2014, racking up 693 yards in the process.
St Kilda coach Alan Richardson has praised Holmes’ work ethic and commitment to improvement as he strives to become a regular fixture in a young St Kilda team. If Holmes can help show he is not just novelty it will go along way to establishing the US as a permanent market for future AFL players. While it will take some time for him to learn the nuances of ruck positioning, forward play and the importance of playing structures in the AFL, Holmes' athletic ability and attitude will stand him in good stead as he attempts to emulate Canadian Mike Pyke’s rise to prominence as an authentic AFL ruckman.
AFL executives will keep a keen eye on Holmes’ progress. While the AFL has a large following in North America as evidenced by AFANA, there is an untapped market for the game in the US. AFANA has worked for 20 years to keep American fans informed, but the success of the new wave of recruits from America will go a long way to raising the profile of Aussie Rules in North America.
On Saturday night (Australian Time), America’s Jason Holmes will write the first chapter in his Australian Rules history. AFANA will bring you a match report and photos following the match this weekend. We have asked the AFL and Fox to do what they can to bring the match to TV but the short lead time between the announcement of his debut and the game make the prospects difficult. Fans with WatchAFL Global subscriptions or willing to pay for one week are encouraged to watch the game via the internet.
Article last changed on Saturday, April 01, 2017 - 11:14 AM EDT