Eaglehawk punter Sam Irwin-Hill believes he’s on the right pathway towards living his NFL dream after accepting a scholarship with division one college Arkansas.
The former Bendigo Pioneers footballer will be starting punter for the Razorbacks in the SEC division – regarded as the strongest in the USA college system.
The 22-year-old has had a fairytale ride in American football since first joining the City College of San Francisco Rams two seasons ago and has the NFL in his sights.
“That was the initial goal, obviously that was a very big goal but I like to make those sort of challenges,” Irwin-Hill said.
“I believe in myself and I believe that I’ll be able to do it. Getting to division one is that next stage, that next level, it’s a very exciting opportunity.
“It’s kind of funny because I’ve worked so much for it and it’s been such a long journey, it’s kind of a rewarding in a way but it still feels kind of surreal.”
Irwin-Hill has been in demand after two outstanding seasons in junior college with the Rams.
He was part of City College’s undefeated season in his debut year, helping the team to the national championship and the number one ranking of 139 two-year colleges in the United States.
After a 10-2 record, the Rams fell at the state championship hurdle 35-14 to Bakersfield last season, but Irwin-Hill improved his punting statistics to 46.l yards and was named in the all-conference team.
“I understand the game a lot more and I knew what I had to do and I think that I had a really good season,” he said.
“I did a lot better than last year, and you can see it in the results and the statistics. It’s good to know I’m still learning and still improving.”
Irwin-Hill’s performances as a punter/kicker also drew scholarship offers from several other senior colleges.
“It was tough to choose because I had another couple of offers from other schools,” Irwin-Hill said.
“I had Miami just out of the blue offer me a scholarship and that was a really exciting moment because they’re a huge school and they’ve got a massive tradition – I think they’re the most successful team in college football.
“But at the same time they’re not as good as what they were.
“Arkansas have got new coaches in, new staff, a new program and a $50 million sports centre opening this year.
“And then they’re in the SEC, you get more fans, and more exposure – so I thought that would be the right pathway if I one day do get to the NFL.”
Arkansas, which had a disappointing 4-8 record last season, regularly plays in front of crowds of more than 80,000.
Irwin-Hill, who has been back in Bendigo over the Christmas holidays, is hoping to eventually be first-choice kicker for the Hogs, as well as the punter.
But first, the former Catholic College Bendigo student must complete his studies at City College in the spring, before moving to Arkansas in the summer.
With the American football season not beginning until autumn, Irwin-Hill will have to train alone before joining Arkansas.
“It’s a very big ask, but I’ve kind of been in that situation before when I first got there, I’ll be right I guess,” he said.
“When I came to City College I had three weeks before the season started, that was a handful.
“But I think I might be going over a few weeks before summer starts so I’ll be able to get involved and meet my team-mates.”