ON THE football field and in life, Hugh Robertson has never shied away from a challenge.
Now, he's ready for the next massive and life-altering one.
The 2019 Strathfieldsaye premiership star is preparing to head Stateside, where he has earned a scholarship as a punter at the University of Illinois.
Robertson joins a rapidly growing contingent of Australians to have graced the US college football ranks over the past decade.
Indeed, several of the schools Illinois will face in its Big Ten Conference when the delayed football season goes ahead in the American spring - among them perennial powerhouse Ohio State, Iowa, Michigan State and Nebraska - will have Australian punters on their rosters.
But Robertson's story is somewhat unique.
At 27, he will be the eighth-oldest college football player in the US, and the second-oldest freshman.
I am honoured to announce that I have accepted a full blue shirt scholarship to study and play college football at THE University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, Illinois. Thank you @IlliniFootball@Coach_Lig@LovieSmith@ProkickAus@JohnnyPKA#fightingillini#jointhefight 🔶🔷 pic.twitter.com/7X2mhC2gUR— Hugh Robertson (@HughRober1son) August 6, 2020
None of which phases or intimidates the solidly-built former key position player, who booted three goals in the Storm's 14 point BFNL premiership win last season, and is one a fresh crop of graduates from the ultra-successful ProKick Australia program run by Nathan Chapman.
He becomes the second former Storm premiership player to earn a scholarship and a place on a college roster in the past 12 months.
Jamieson Sheahan, a premiership player in 2017, is at the University of California at Berkeley.
Robertson said the idea to give punting a try was planted by a team-mate at Strathfieldsaye during pre-season training.
"I'd never heard of the (Prokick) program before and he mentioned Jam Sheahan had done it," he said.
"So, I got in contact with him and got in contact with the guys, who run the program, but didn't hear anything for about three months.
"Eventually, I went down to Melbourne for a kick and booted a few half-decent balls - it was a pretty windy day down there at Box Hill where they train.
"I ran into Jam Sheahan there and he showed me the ropes a bit, but I really enjoyed it."
After aceing his audition, Robertson - a police officer for the last three years and a protective services officer (PSO) before that for four years - faced some tough choices.
Did he leave behind the career he had worked so hard for and loved and his friends and family, or did he take the step into the unknown?
In the end, it was education, more than football, that would determine his destiny.
"I'd never been to uni before, so that pretty much sealed my position. As I have full eligibility, I can do a full five years of university over there, which has worked out really nicely," he said.
"Without studying, I wouldn't have been able to do this, so it's worked out really well.
"It was good to get a premiership in with Strathfieldsaye and then by October I could launch into this.
"Now, I'm sitting in a hotel in isolation in Sydney ready to head over."
Robertson, who admits he had not watched a full NFL or college football match until about 12 months ago, said the quarantine period had granted him time to complete his summer courses, while a delayed football season would inevitably give him time to settle into college life.
His decision to leave behind a seven-year career with Victoria Police and pursue education was heavily influenced by the experience of his father Peter.
"He was 27 too when he went back to university, so he thinks it's a bit weird I'm now doing it," he said.
"But it's going to be exciting getting the chance to further my education and see what else is out there.
"Who knows, I might be back in the police force in five years' time, or on to something new. We'll soon find out."
Robertson said it was hard bidding goodbye to family and friends, and of course his former Storm team-mates.
"I really enjoyed my time there, but this is something that is obviously going to be better in the long run with my education and will fulfil my adventurous nature, which has always been there," he said.
"It's a big move, moving to the other side of the world, but in 20-years time, hopefully, I can look back at it and remember it being a special time."
Have you signed up to the Bendigo Advertiser's daily newsletter and breaking news emails? You can register below and make sure you are up to date with everything that's happening in central Victoria.