When Bendigo's Jamieson Sheahan received a scholarship to play college football and study at University of California, Berkeley he knew he was in for a life-changing experience.
Six months into his scholarship his life has changed in ways he could never have imagined.
When he arrived in California in January, Sheahan expected his major focus to be studying and honing his kicking skills with the American football.
The coronavirus pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement have been, and continue to be, life altering experiences for the 23-year-old.
Sheahan's life changed on his first day on campus at Cal Berkeley, which is about a 20 minute drive from San Francisco in the picturesque Bay Area.
It was January 15 - orientation day. That's the day he met his now girlfriend, Alivia, who has played a crucial role in his first year in the USA.
Life was sweet for Sheahan for the first three months of his stay.
"Workouts, I had full classes and I could experience everything in San Francisco and travel up and down the west coast,'' Sheahan said.
"I had about 10 weeks of normality, but that came to an abrupt end."
The COVID-19 pandemic hit the west coast of the country. The school closed, no football and his family thousands of kilometres away.
"I tried to get back to Australia, but my flight got cancelled and I ended up staying with my girlfriend and her family in Sacramento," Sheahan said.
"Lockdown was the toughest three months of my life.
"I had a family of sorts to stay with over her, who were great to me, but I'm very close to my family in Bendigo and it was hard being away from them.
"Mum and Dad didn't know about their jobs and I have three younger siblings.
"It was a super tough time to be away and it was frustrating to know that I was two days away from coming home before my flight got cancelled.
"It was tough to deal with, but the good news is my family is doing great.
"(In Sacramento) I never felt unsafe. We were really diligent in what we did and were careful where we went."
The deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor at the hands of the police in the US sparked protests around the world.
Last month Sheahan was one of about 3000 students who marched down the main streets of Berkeley, protesting police brutality and racism.
"I'm proud to say I walked in a protest with 10 of my black friends from the football team and that meant an incredible amount to them,'' Sheahan said.
"It was a student-led, peaceful protest on the main streets of Berkeley. Everyone was wearing face masks and keeping their distance.
"It's a terrible thing the systemic racism in America and around the globe, so it was powerful to walk with my friends.
"My friends know that I've got their back and it's an awesome brotherhood over here at the school.
"It's a bond I'll have for the rest of my life and I'm glad I was able to do my bit."
After a three-month lay-off, Sheahan returned to training with his team-mates last week.
However, the threat of COVID-19 remains high.
Every week Sheahan lines up at the Golden Bears' practice facility and is tested for COVID-19.
"It's not the most pleasant thing to have a rod shoved up your nose that effectively touches your brain,'' he said.
"If that's what I have to do to be able to workout then that's what I'll do.
"Those three months without workouts were pretty terrible. I'm grateful for the opportunity to be able to workout with my mates.
"We're in a training period called summer workout that's a bit like a footy pre-season.
"We are just running and lifting and there's no footballs involved. We're in groups of 12 and you have to stay 10 feet apart at all times.
"It's very structured, you have to wear a mask throughout the workouts and you can't touch anyone at all."
Berkeley is no longer in lockdown and some restrictions are slowly easing.
"As long as you wear a face mask at all times you're allowed to go out,'' Sheahan said.
"You can go to the park, shoot a basketball, get food and coffee...everything is take away here still, you can't sit in at restaurants.
"There's no lockdown in place, but there's not a lot of places open.
"I'm living with my girlfriend in Berkeley. We try to stay as active as possible by getting out on the bikes, going for walks or shooting the basketball.
"Study and workouts take up most of my time at the moment.
"By the time I study, go to practice for two-and-a-half hours in the afternoon and then the day is pretty much done.
"It's a repeat of that for five days a week at the moment."
Sheahan has replaced another Australian as the punter on the Golden Bears' roster.
His new American team-mates have taken a liking to his accent and the former Strathfieldsaye and Essendon VFL player has been teaching them about Aussie Rules.
"It's not foreign to them to have an Australian in the squad,'' Sheahan said.
"I still have a bit of Bendigo bogan in me and they've taken a liking to that and a few of my sayings.
"I workout with the special teams group and we have a really good bond between us. It's a lot of fun.
"I've been streaming football games on the AFL app and I've been educating five or six of my team-mates on the game.
"They think it's the most incredible sport.
"They don't understand how we can hit each other that hard without pads and helmets and how accurately we kick the ball.
"It's pretty humorous to watch them watch the games. They get a real kick out of watching the goal umpires signal a goal."
At this stage, the US college football season is scheduled to start in late August.
The depth of COVID-19 issues across the country makes that starting date seem less likely everyday.
"We're seven weeks away from the first scheduled games, so the next few weeks of workouts are flat out,'' Sheahan said.
"If everything is going well we'll then head into fall camp for a month before the first game.
"Fall camp we're at the stadium from 7am until 7pm for practice, meetings and walkthroughs... it's a hectic schedule.
"It's trending in the right direction and we're having COVID tests weekly to make sure we are staying on top of things.
"Cal (the school) has our health at the forefront of everything they do. It's a waiting game and we'll keep working out to make sure we're ready if we do play.
"We've got a really good chance to win the Pac-12 Championship this year. We have a number of seniors coming back to play this season and we're looking pretty good. Hopefully, we can get some football in."
Sheahan's foot skills were the strength of his game at Strathfieldsaye in the BFNL and with Essendon in the VFL.
After spending 12 months with Nathan Chapman's Prokick group in 2019 he developed his "spirals" with an American football.
"I had a great time with Nathan Chapman and Johnny Smith working on my craft and learning how to kick a spiral,'' Sheahan said.
"There's only so much they can teach until you get over here and you're kicking in the stadium with some big boys running at you trying to rush you and block the ball.
"I'm really happy with the way I'm kicking the ball at the moment. I've improved in leaps and bounds.
"I've been punting every second day and I'm liking the way the ball is coming out at the moment."
Sheahan also plans to use his Aussie Rules kicking skills to his advantage.
Drop punts have become a regular part of a punter's artillery in American football.
"The predominant kick is the American spiral and I've been working hard on that because the Aussie drop punt comes naturally to me,'' he said.
"I've got a few tricks up my sleeve with the banana kicks and the snap...so I'm looking forward to showing those out there.
"Stay tuned for a fake punt or two as well. Make sure you watch the first game or two."
There's been ups and downs in his first six months at Cal Berkeley, but through it all Sheahan has never lost sight of the big picture.
"It's been frustrating at times, but everyone has had to deal with it,'' he said.
"I'm still getting a great experience here. I'm still studying online at the top public university in the world.
"I'm still getting a degree from Berkeley and I've met some wonderful people.
"It's been challenging in the last three months or so, but I wouldn't change what I'm doing, no way."
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