BEREA — Jamie Gillan got off the phone and the attention of the patrons in the bar shifted from the Ohio State game on the TVs to him.
“The Scottish Hammer” has never punted in a real NFL game but is already recognizable in Northeast Ohio. The savvy Browns fans at The Flying Monkey Pub in Cleveland’s Tremont neighborhood knew what the call could mean and were waiting to find out if Gillan had made the team or been cut.
“I just kind of said, ‘It looks like I’m playing Tennessee next week’ and everybody just started going crazy, so it was really cool,” he said Monday. “It was good fun with them.”
Gillan and his father went for a couple of pints Saturday afternoon as they waited for the life-changing news. General manager John Dorsey delivered it.
“I was trying to not sit around the house and twiddle my thumbs,” he said. “We’re sitting at the bar and hanging out and I got the call from Mr. Dorsey. He said, ‘Get ready for Tennessee.’”
The Browns host the Titans on Sunday in the season opener.
Gillan, who came to the U.S. when he was 16 because his dad’s in the Royal Air Force, quickly won over fans with his personality, accent, long hair, willingness to tackle — he used to dream of playing professional rugby — and a left leg that sends balls into orbit when he’s not busting them. He tried to buy the bar a round of drinks but was denied.
“Instead it went the other way,” he said. “It was really fun there.”
The Cinderella story began when Gillan joined the high school football team in Leonardtown, Md. — Dorsey’s hometown. The next step was a scholarship to the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff that he learned about through a friend who had seen it on Facebook.
He caught the eye of NFL teams at a kicking combine, then destroyed three balls as he prepared for a workout with the Browns and 49ers. The Browns signed him as an undrafted rookie, and the final hurdle was the hardest to clear: unseating 10-year veteran Britton Colquitt.
The Browns picked Gillan’s power and potential over Colquitt’s consistency and experience.
“Just really happy for him because he’s worked hard for it and he’s a game-changer,” kicker Austin Seibert said.
“We thought he performed well. He kicked the ball well, and we have total confidence that he is going to do the job,” coach Freddie Kitchens said. “The upside is tremendous on it. I think you saw that during the course of the preseason.
“He is working on consistency as an everyday thing. We think he can get there, and that is why he is here.”
Gillan averaged 46.1 yards and a 41.4 net on 17 preseason punts, including a league-best 74-yarder and six inside the 20-yard line.
Punting came naturally from his rugby days. Holding for place-kicks was a more difficult transition after not doing it in college because he was also the kicker. His only experience was sporadically holding for his backup.
Special teams coordinator Mike Priefer worked extensively with Gillan, who held as Seibert went 4-for-4 in the preseason finale. He beat out incumbent Greg Joseph.
“I just worked really hard with Coach Prief and Austin and Greg and held as much as I could every day,” Gillan said. “We have the low Jugs machines here, which we never had them at Arkansas, so it was pretty cool, just shooting footballs at me and just getting as many reps as I can. Because with something like that, it’s just repetition, repetition until it’s just second nature.”
Colquitt had punted well for the Browns, including setting a franchise record in 2017 with a 40.6 net, so Gillan was a long shot to win the job. That wasn’t his attitude.
“I never came in here thinking I’m not going to make this team. I came in here with the mindset of I’m a good punter and I’m going to keep getting better and my goal is to play for the Cleveland Browns,” he said. “Throughout the whole time it’s I’m here to play for the Browns. That’s it.”
He said his dad “couldn’t believe it” and was “over the moon” at the news and they had a fun time celebrating. Gillan acknowledged “life’s weird, isn’t it?” when contemplating the path he would’ve taken if his dad hadn’t gotten transferred to Maryland but didn’t want to dwell on the magnitude of the accomplishment.
“It’s really cool. I try not to think about it, because I don’t want it to be overwhelming or anything for me,” he said. “It’s just playing football, just playing football with some buds in there for the Cleveland Browns.
“I don’t like to make it too crazy. I know my dad and my family and stuff think it’s crazy, people think it’s crazy, but just got to stay focused and grounded in what I’ve got to do, and that’s do my job.”
He won’t ever forget his afternoon at The Flying Monkey.
“It’s going to be one of those little places in my heart that you go every so often,” he said.