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From Australia to Denver, no one took a path to the Broncos quite like Adam Gotsis


ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --They call our code of football "gridiron" in Australia.

By using that word, it makes it easier to differentiate the pads-and-helmets iteration from the sleeveless-shirt-and-short-shorts, run-and-punt version of football played on oval fields in Australia.

The sports share a preferred name and rough shape of the ball -- they're both oblate spheroids, although the Australian version is rounder and blunter at the ends. There's a fair amount of hitting in each. There are goal posts.

But beyond that, Australian and American football have little common ground. Except, of course, in the occasional player that makes the leap across the Pacific Ocean and the Equator.

Usually, these players are punters -- Darren Bennett, former Broncos preseason player Mat McBriar, Ben Graham, Sav Rocca, Brad Wing and Jordan Berry. The few offensive players to come from Australia typically played rugby, like former Seahawks defensive tackle Jesse Williams and current 49ers running back/punt returner Jarryd Hayne.

Adam Gotsis is something new, something different. And he has a chance to help redefine the possibilities for the Australians that eschew their local brand of footy in favor of the American game.

The Broncos drafted him just over two months after the Cardinals signed former Australian rules player Joel Wilkinson as a cornerback. But Wilkinson just took up the game after playing in the AFL professionally. Gotsis has been working at the American game for eight years.

Prior to his 15th birthday, Gotsis' understanding of American football came via the EA Madden video-game franchise. Growing up in Abbotsford, Victoria, Australia, Gotsis was all about the Australian game, of which he remains a devoted fan.

"Growing up, that's what I wanted to do. Obviously, that's the big sport," Gotsis said. "I saw myself playing that from such a young age -- and I can still see myself playing that."

But there isn't a market for 298-pounders in the AFL. The bulkiest player on Gotsis' favorite club, the North Melbourne Kangaroos, weights 227 pounds; the average weight of players on the team's senior squad is 193 pounds.

Gotsis was growing. Australian football probably wasn't an option. Rugby or American football could be. But unlike in the United States, there is no structure for the sport through the educational system; there are independent clubs, including the one for which his mother found a flyer, the Monash Warriors.

"You go down there, you pay $300," he said. "They give you a pair of pads and some insurance. You practice once a week and you play once a week, and a lot of guys after the game will go get some beers, and that's it. That's kind of the way it is down there.

"It's a roped-off field. There's no stadiums, nothing. Just guys that love the game. They love every aspect of it. It's a culture down there. It's just a recreational-type league."

It's recreational, but organized; the Warriors had two teams, a senior club for players 19 and up and a junior team for those of high-school age, 14 to 19.

"So I went down there as a 15-year-old and I'm sitting in the car waiting, and I see all these guys with beards, 19-year-old guys walking down there, and I'm like, 'Am I in the right place? I'm not going down there. These guys are men,'" he recalled. "My brother was there at the time, he's about three years older than me, and he was like, 'Look, I'll go down there with you.' And the rest is history."

Gotsis was a man among boys, as it turned out. He quickly established himself as the star of the Monash Warriors' junior team before spending one year on the senior squad.

"I just fell in love with the sport straight away," Gotsis said. "I was like, 'I'm a big guy, and I'm important. I'm not just a big guy out there.' It was awesome."

But he wasn't just having fun. He caught the attention of a former Georgia Tech player who passed along Gotsis' name and information to Tech head coach Paul Johnson. Immediately, Johnson took a liking to Gotsis' quick feet; he saw him as a perfect tackle for the triple-option offense the Yellow Jackets run. A scholarship offer followed.

When Gotsis arrived in Atlanta he had two goals: earn his degree and make it to the NFL. One seemed realistic, the other didn't, especially after he arrived and was shifted to the defensive line. Australian football remained in his mind.

"I [thought], 'I'm going to come to college, I'm going to do the college thing, and then try and get to the NFL, and if that doesn't work, probably just lose 80 pounds and try to play Aussie rules football,'" he said. "That was kind of like my mindset. I love the sport back home. But thankfully I chose football, and it worked out for me."

Whether you call him a football player or a gridiron player, Gotsis doesn't care. In time, he hopes you call him an NFL star.

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