Nic Naitanui has inspired many young men to pursue an AFL career. He’s also the player who made American Jason Holmes dream.
Holmes made his AFL debut for St Kilda on Saturday night against Geelong a little more than two years after seeing Aussie Rules for the first time at a talent-spotting camp in Los Angeles.
“I saw Nic Naitanui take that amazing mark and I was like ‘woah man.’ It really resonated with me,” Holmes said.
“He came from a basketball background so I thought I’d love to have a crack at that.”
Holmes hails from a family of sporting stars. His brother Andre is a wide receiver for the Oakland Raiders in the NFL. His other brother Mark plays professional basketball in France.
His father Kevin travelled far and wide across Europe and South America throughout his 10-year basketball career that at one stage had him drafted by the Philadelphia 76ers.
“It’s a significant journey and he’s from an incredible sporting family. What a day for him. There’s 300 million people in the states and he’s the first one ever to play Australian Rules footy. It’s a great honour.” – alan richardson
“I always dreamed of playing (sport) professionally,” Holmes said.
“The goal was to make it to the NBA or do what my dad did.
“Going through high school I knew that’s what I wanted to do.
“The first step was playing college basketball.
“I was graduating college and that’s when I got the call to try out for AFL footy.
“It was really intriguing for me to see something so important to so many people but I had no clue what it was.
“I really wanted to learn about it.”
A three-week training stint in Sydney under Paul Roos convinced Holmes to continue to chase the footy dream.
“I realised when it came down to it that I would have regretted it if I didn’t have a crack at it. I don’t want to live my life with any regrets.
“A lot of people make sacrifices to get anywhere in life. I would say the hardest one I had to make was missing my brother’s wedding.
“I had to make the decision [of whether] I was going to train in Sydney for three weeks or be the best man at my brother’s wedding.
“It wasn’t easy but I think I made a pretty good decision.”
Holmes finished his debut match against the Cats with two kicks, five handpasses and one mark – but his 34 hitouts gave St Kilda first use around the stoppages.
St Kilda coach Alan Richardson described the former college basketballer as “really exciting”.
“He’s a great person, I was lucky enough to take my family over to Chicago to spend a bit of time with his family to get a feel for what he’s leaving behind,” Richardson said.
“It’s a significant journey and he’s from an incredible sporting family.
“What a day for him. There’s 300 million people in the states and he’s the first one ever to play Australian Rules footy. It’s a great honour.”