Jamie Gillan had a nickname before he even had a full year of football under his belt.
For that to be one of the least remarkable occurrences in Gillan’s improbable journey to Cleveland shows just how remarkable it is for him to be on the field as one of the Browns’ two punters at the first part of OTAs.
Just six years ago, Gillan was living across the Atlantic Ocean in his native Inverness, Scotland, going through boarding school, playing rugby and knowing close to nothing about American football. He’d heard of the Green Bay Packers -- only because his friend was a fan -- but had never seen a game.
“I was rugby, rugby, rugby,” Gillan said.
The Browns' roster as of May 13, 2019.
That’s how it remained even after Gillan, whose father is in the Royal Air Force, moved overseas to Leonardtown, Maryland, a small town of less than 3,000 located 55 miles south of Washington D.C.. Though rugby isn’t nearly as popular in the states as it is in Scotland, Gillan still found plenty of action, playing for enough teams and clubs to set himself up to potentially play at the collegiate level.
Halfway through Leonardtown High’s 2014 season, the team needed a kicker. Gillan, who is a “fly half” in rugby -- which is “essentially the quarterback,” Gillan said, and also involves plenty of kicking -- became the man for the job, and his coach promptly gave him the nickname “Scottish Hammer.”
“He knew I was from Scotland and he saw me kick a couple of footballs and he said, ‘yep, I'm going to call you the Scottish Hammer,’” Gillan said.
That’s how it was supposed to end -- a fun, five-week break from rugby before he figured out what to do beyond high school. A Facebook post by Gillan’s friend changed everything.
Gillan’s friend posted Gillan’s highlight reel on the page of the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, a historically black university that plays in the FCS. Within hours, Gillan had a full scholarship offer.
It’d be another significant life change, but the details mattered little to Gillan from that point forward.
“That was a huge culture shock but I've moved house so many times with my dad being in the military that meeting new people has never been a hard thing,” Gillan said. “I was extremely blessed to have the opportunity to play college football and then also on the full scholarship as well. I've got a four-year degree for free. You'd never get that in Scotland. I got free food, free housing, free weight room, everything. It was an awesome experience and everyone was super inviting when I got there. I've got best friends for life from that school.”
That’s how this chapter was supposed to end, too. It wasn’t until months after Gillan’s final college season came to an end -- a year that saw him average 42.5 yards per punt -- when the NFL even entered his mind as a potential next step.
Though he wasn’t invited to the NFL Scouting Combine, Gillan made waves at multiple pre-draft events. He was named the top punter at Gary Zauner’s annual scouting combine for specialists who weren’t invited to the NFL Combine. He later followed with an impressive showing at Arkansas State’s Pro Day, where he wowed scouts not only with his strong leg, but also impressive numbers in drills such as the 40-yard dash and vertical leap.
At a sturdy 6-foot-1 and 207 pounds, Gillan is built like, well, a rugby player. It’s not a typical build for a punter, but there’s nothing typical about Gillan’s story.
Browns special teams coordinator Mike Priefer met with Gillan in Arkansas shortly before the draft. They shared a meal at an Irish pub the night before what Gillan described as “a great day of kicking.” Gillan later visited the Browns in Berea but entered draft weekend with few certainties. About 20 teams contacted Gillan before the draft, but his name went uncalled throughout the seven rounds.
Gillan was more than happy to ride the wave. He spent Day 3 of the draft celebrating his graduation with friends and family before fielding a call from the Browns to sign as an undrafted free agent.
“I punted, kicked and kicked off for Pine Bluff and had a good time,” Gillan said. “Now I'm in the position I'm in now. It's incredible.”
The next chapter comes with no guarantees. Though the process that landed Gillan at Arkansas Pine Bluff was improbable, he walked into a favorable situation with minimal competition. He faces the opposite situation in Cleveland going against 10-year veteran Britton Colquitt, who is coming off one of the best seasons of his career.
“Obviously he's an incredibly punter going into his 10th year in the NFL,” Gillan said. “I want to learn from Mr. Priefer and continue to better myself. Understand I've got a good leg and I'm talented enough to be in this position now. Now it's about the consistency of getting better with my team and gelling in with the team perfectly.”
At some point this summer, Gillan plans to travel back to Scotland for the first time in four years. His father still plays rugby, and Gillan wouldn’t rule out pursuing the sport in the future, but he’s not turning away from what’s carried him on this unexpected journey to this point.
“My contract would be because of my leg and you wouldn't want to hurt that,” Gillan said. “We'll see how it goes down the line. Rugby can wait.”