MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. (AP) — It wasn’t long ago that Justin Senior, Adam Gotsis and Francis Kallon had no idea what the Orange Bowl was.
They do now.
A couple of short flights brought Mississippi State and Georgia Tech to South Florida for Wednesday night’s Orange Bowl, but the journey to one of college football’s showcase games was much longer for those three players.
Senior, a Mississippi State offensive lineman, hails from Montreal. Gotsis is a standout defensive lineman for Georgia Tech, still with the accent of his native Australia. And Kallon is a backup defensive tackle for the Yellow Jackets, someone who didn’t even know what the American version of football was when he was living in London five years ago.
“With all the social media and the way people correspond now, there’s no hidden gems anymore,” Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson said. “It’s hard to find a guy who nobody knows about. So the game, for a lack of a better term, I can say it’s gone global.”
Senior can skate, perked up when he heard the Montreal Canadiens were visiting the Florida Panthers on Tuesday and has a confession about his earliest football days.
“I was really bad,” Senior said.
That’s not exactly the typical first step leading to a stellar college career.
“My mom put me in football for like a year to see if I would like it,” Senior said. “I didn’t really like it. But when I started playing with my friends, football started getting really fun.”
And look at him now: a starter on a team that comes into the Orange Bowl with a 10-2 record, and with one of the nation’s most potent offenses.
“He really stands out, coming from such a different culture,” Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said. “He really brings a different set of ideals and within the team, that’s unique and can expand the thoughts of the other kids. … They get to talk to Justin — they say they’re going to want to see Montreal someday, just to expand their horizons.”
Senior could find himself going up against Gotsis or Kallon on Wednesday.
Gotsis was an Australian Rules player and dabbled with rugby in his homeland before someone who Johnson knew sent Georgia Tech a video of his athleticism. With that video came a promise that the kid had what it took to play the American version — and at a high level. Johnson was mildly skeptical but invited Gotsis to visit anyway.
This season, Gotsis was a second-team All-Atlantic Coast Conference selection. He’s hoping to be a college football trendsetter among Aussies.
“I feel like there’s a bunch of guys back home who could come over here and play college football or even in the pros,” Gotsis said. “The type of athlete now has such good hand-eye coordination and such a good motor to be able to run all day. They’re fast. I see no reason why more kids can’t come over and get recruited.”
Of the three, Kallon might have the most unusual of the stories.
He didn’t even follow American football until trying it for the first time shortly after his family settled in Georgia, and that was in 2010. He was an immediate hit during his lone season of high school football, winding up with 12 scholarship offers before choosing Georgia Tech.
“I just thank God for having the opportunity,” Kallon said. “From where I’ve been to where I am now, I’m just grateful.”
Kallon still dabbles with his soccer ball, Gotsis has tried unsuccessfully to teach his Tech teammates the nuances of Australian Rules, and Senior still marvels at how much his outlook on the sport has changed.
Three stories, all converging Wednesday night.
“I’m just trying to see how it ends,” Senior said. “My story’s a little unusual, but I don’t feel like it’s that big of a deal. My friends say it’s cool that I’m one of the first ones to do this, but I’m not trying to be the first one. I’m trying to be the best one.”
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