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Jason Holmes a long way from home

This article was originally published on January 15, 2014, shortly after Holmes attended the AFL Players’ Induction Camp for all new players. More than 18 months on, he is preparing to make his AFL debut. He’ll line up for St Kilda in the club’s Saturday night clash with Geelong at Etihad Stadium.

In a room full of scrawny teenagers at the AFL Players’ Induction Camp, there were a few standouts.

Tom Boyd was the obvious one, with the Giants’ number one draft pick possessing the build of a seasoned AFL player. The gangly, fresh-faced ruckmen were easy to spot, but there was one young ruckman who didn’t fit this mould and stood out from the rest in more ways than one.

American Jason Holmes stood head and shoulders above most other rookies in the room and like Boyd, is almost as broad as Jonathan Brown.

He also hails from Chicago and arrives in Australia having spent his formative years playing basketball at college level.

AFL 2013 Training - St Kilda 081113

The 23-year-old, 203-centimetre project ruckman signed a two-year international rookie deal with the Saints in October after impressing more than a few clubs with his athleticism at the draft combine.

Holmes only started learning our game in April 2013, weeks before the AFL combine in Los Angeles, but says the transition to the sport has been a fairly smooth one.

“The transition to AFL has been good.  Our countries are very similar. Subtle differences, but nothing major,” Holmes says.

We have seen former AFL footballers such as Sav Rocca and Ben Graham try their hand at American sports in recent years, but few Americans have attempted to cross to the AFL like Holmes has.

Holmes’ brother Andre is a wide receiver in the NFL, where Rocca and Graham spent several years as punters. His father Kevin and other brother Mark also have college basketball experience.

Holmes himself played 32 games of division one college basketball for the Morehead State Eagles in Kentucky as a forward, before making the long journey over to Australia after the 2012-13 season.

Shelving the basketball and learning how to play a completely foreign ball-sport takes a lot of time and practice, and Holmes is very aware of the steep learning curve.

“Everyday I’m learning something new, whether it’s on the field or off. It’s been good.”

“Everyday I’m learning something new, whether it’s on the field or off. It’s been good.”

Given his obvious athletic exploits, he knows exactly where he wants to play in his adopted sport.

“Definitely in the ruck,” he says. “While playing in the ruck I might take a breather and move up to centre-half or full forward, but predominantly ruck.”

The American also shared his thoughts on the Induction Camp itself and on spending time with rookies from clubs around the country.

“I think the Induction Camp is great. I think a lot of times in sport there are rivalries, some good, and some bad. But I’ve been around all of these boys at the combine. Now it’s good to see us all wearing our team shirts, still interacting and being friends,” he says

“It strengthens the league, builds relationships and the AFLPA itself.”

Holmes also had some clear favourites when it came to the workshops he attended.

“I thought the Wellness workshop was really important. How to stay mentally fit throughout your career. Financial was good too, to know how to set yourself up.”

“I’ve always known you can only be an athlete for so long. It is important to have those resources to set yourself up after your career is over.”

Wise words from a young player who could become a trailblazer in his new sport and encourage more young American athletes to try their hand at Australian Rules Football.