Australian NFL Draft Hopefuls Discuss Jarryd Hayne's Impact Down Under

Since 2000, nine Australians have appeared in a regular season NFL game.

Of that group, seven have been punters – a position not exactly known for creating stars. And because of that fact, American football hadn't grown much in mainstream popularity Down Under, where Aussie rules football and rugby league are king.

That paradigm, however, started to shift with the stateside arrival of Jarryd Hayne last summer. As the story goes, the two-time MVP of the National Rugby League spurned the richest contract in the sport's history to sign a rookie deal with the San Francisco 49ers.

Hayne, of course, went on to make the team's 53-man roster out of training camp and appear in eight games in 2015, totaling 155 all-purpose yards on 31 touches.

Both general manager Trent Baalke and coach Chip Kelly went on the record at the 2016 NFL Scouting Combine with their anticipation to see what Hayne can accomplish in Year 2 in the NFL.

Follow behind-the-scenes shots from the former Australian rugby league star's transition to running back for the San Francisco 49ers.

Also in Indianapolis, four Australians were among the 300-plus players invited to participate in the event. Those draft hopefuls have experienced first-hand what Hayne has done for the sport back home in such a short period of time.

"People have kind of latched on to what he's doing," said Utah punter Tom Hackett, a Melbourne native. "Just speaking to my mom and dad, they play more games on the television now. That's probably a good indication of whether or not people are trying to watch it."

Although he's yet to begin his NFL career, Hackett is probably one of the most well known Australian athletes in the sport. Originally recruited off a YouTube video, Hackett went on to win back-to-back Ray Guy Awards, which is given annually to college football's best punter.

Hackett later made headlines with an off-hand quote that went viral on social media: "The main reason I'm playing this sport is because deep down I'm fat and I don't like running very far." Hackett was also the subject of an ESPN The Magazine feature, in which his dilapidated Subaru Outback was stolen and later recovered.

Yet despite the media attention in the U.S., Hackett didn't capture much notoriety from Australians early in his career. That interest level changed when Hayne came to the 49ers.

"Jarryd Hayne is doing a better job than I am," Hackett said, smiling when asked if he considers himself an American football ambassador. "But I'm cool with that. That's the way I'd like it. There had been a few articles about me written back home, but not many people read them.

"If I ever get drafted or do something, maybe they will. Until then, no, I don't really see many people saying they want to be like me."

The other three Australians at the combine were Sam Houston State punter Lachland Edwards, Maryland kicker Brad Craddock and Georgia Tech defensive tackle Adam Gotsis.

They, too, have observed more Australians showing curiosity in the NFL since Hayne made the switch.

"It's weird because you go back and it's actually a lot bigger now than when it was when I left," Craddock said. "It was funny when I went back last time, but it's cool. It's good."

Gotsis, for one, thinks that Hayne's visibility will encourage more children in Australia to play American football at a younger age. That route would obviously make for a more direct path to the pros, as opposed to Hayne's unusual trajectory.

"I think the biggest thing is these kids grow up playing Australian rules football and rugby," Gotsis said. "They get to such an elite level at that sport that it's hard to walk away from that to go back to not even knowing anything about another sport. That's the biggest challenge.

"That's why you see professional guys like Jarryd Hayne and other Aussie rules players come over because they are already high up in their sports, they're the best of the best. They are looking for another challenge."

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