SAM Irwin-Hill is intent as ever on turning setbacks into success in pursuit of his NFL dream.
The 28-year-old former Bendigo Pioneers and Eaglehawk footballer has come close on three occasions to landing a starting gig as an NFL punter, only to be cut from the roster ahead of the regular season.
But Irwin-Hill, who rose to prominence in 2013-14 during a stellar college career with the University of Arkansas is not one to dwell on the past.
Instead he is champing at the bit in the countdown to his newest gig with San Diego Fleet, one of eight charter members of the new Alliance of American Football (AAF) league.
The season for the Fleet kicks-off on February 9 in Texas against San Antonio Commanders.
Irwin-Hill, who is back in Bendigo for a couple of weeks before getting back down to business, hopes the AAF can provide him with a springboard back into the NFL system.
“This is definitely the step-ladder to the NFL,” he said.
“(Former NFL starter) Josh Johnson, who was the overall No. 1 draft pick to the San Diego Fleet as our quarterback, ended up going back to the NFL and the Washington Redskins this season.
“I was happy for him and it’s good to see the AAF serving as that feeder system to the NFL – and it looks reliable.
“We want it as a new developmental league.”
Irwin-Hill, who has kept in shape while back home by training at the Bendigo Hawks Aquatic Swimming Club facility facility, will be guided by some astute coaches in San Diego.
The Fleet’s head-coach is Mike Martz, who took the then St Louis Rams to the Super Bowl in 2001, three years after he served as the team’s offensive co-ordinator under the legendary Dick Vermeil in their championship-winning season.
Martz was later the offensive co-ordinator for the Detroit Lions, San Francisco 49ers and Chicago Bears, most recently with the Bears in 2011.
The Fleet’s special teams coach is Larry MacDuff, whose eight-years in the NFL are highlighted by four with New York Giants as their special teams co-ordinator.
Irwin-Hill, whose NFL pre-season stints have been at the Indianapolis Colts, Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins, believes regardless of what transpires in San Diego, by no means is his debut season in the AAF his final shot at the big time.
“Not at all …. I am that close to it now that to give up would be cowardly,” he said.
“I have always had that persistence and resilience in terms of falling down and getting up.
“My mental mindset has always been strong, especially in understanding the NFL is such a cut-throat business.
“I understand the nature of the game and where to put your emotions and lay them aside.
“At the end of the day it’s all just a business and sometimes it comes down to coincidence and timing. If you are in the right place at the right time and you have your best kick ready to go, you are going to be the guy.”
Irwin-Hill has watched with interest fellow Bendigo punter Jack Bouwmeester’s recruitment to Michigan State University on a four-year scholarship and wished him well in his football journey.
“The Big 10 (league) is huge and he’ll have some big crowds to play in front of,” he said.
“It’s great to see the doors opening for the young guys.”
As the eyes of all American football followers turn to the Super Bowl on February 4 (Australian time), Irwin-Hill is predicting star quarterback Tom Brady and New England Patriots to triumph in a close one against Los Angeles Rams.
“I’ve always been a Tom Brady fan – and that may sound a little clichéd – but he has that GOAT (greatest of all time) mentality and the resilience and confidence in the team. That’s pretty special,” he said.
“I love the LA Rams, they are in a unique position and have a bunch of confidence and are a young team.
“They have a great chance, but I am going to have to go with the Patriots.”
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