NORMALLY, Max Hendrie would have been one of the first in line for tickets to the historic US College gridiron clash in Sydney in August.
He won’t need to queue up, now. Hendrie will be on the field instead.
The Sydney teenager was this week officially signed on a football scholarship to attend the University of Hawaii; who will face off against the University of California in the college football season opener on August 27 at ANZ Stadium.
Hendrie is hoping to follow in the footsteps of former NRL star Jarryd Hayne and transition from rugby union into the world of college football, which almost rivals the NFL for popularity in the States.
Weighing 112kg and standing 194cm, Hendrie was a powerhouse winger for the Scots College school in 2014 but he had an ambition to study in the US and give gridiron a crack.
Assisted by the contacts and training of mentor Paul Manera — who also played for the University of Hawaii in the 1980s — Hendrie impressed recruiters and this week signed an official letter of intent to play for the “Rainbow Warriors”.
Hawaiian media reports say he is a “versatile athlete” considered for both offensive and defensive roles and like any American kid, Hendrie is already dreaming big.
“I want to take the ball as far as I can. I am going over there to study, but I am also going to make a success of football,” Hendrie said.
“It is what I love doing. I love the training. There is just supreme athleticism in the NFL, to be a part of that one day would be a dream.”
Hendrie began investigating a move to college football before Hayne’s high-profile move to the US — and the 49ers — but he said the Eels’ success had assisted him make it a reality.
“He has definitely helped me because everyone hearing an Australian, they immediately wanted to talk about Jarryd Hayne,” Hendrie said.
“A lot of Americans who were interested in him looked into our rugby codes, I am sure. I know coaches are starting to say “hey there are some athletes down under”.”
Hendrie will be the latest in a line of Australians to play for University of Hawaii, after Colin Scotts, Mat McBriar, Scott Harding, Alex Dunnachie and Manera.
Manera met Hendrie last year and put him through “combine tests” on a park oval in Caringbah. He knew quickly he had the right stuff physically, and expects the Rainbow Warriors to play Hendrie at tight end or defensive end. He may even play running back.
“He is a big guy and I timed him in the 40 and he ran a 4.53, which is the same speed as what Jarryd Hayne got at in the NFL combine,” he said.
Manera — whose Bring It On Sports company helps kids pursue sports scholarships in the US — said the impact of Hayne’s success was already noticeable in Australia with more and more kids interested in playing gridiron.
“We run a juniors program and last year we had 23 kids aged 7-14. Last year we had 45, primarily because of the Jarryd Hayne effect,” he said.
Like Hayne, Hendrie has little experience in the helmet and pads and he defied massive odds to get signed: of 185,000 graduating high-school players every year in the US, only 2200 scholarships in division one are handed out.
Manera said he still expects US recruiters would begin to look harder at young talent in rugby and rugby league in the future.
The fact the College Football Sydney Cup — which will be televised in prime time back in the States — is being held here shows the Australian market is already being valued.
Hendrie knows he has much work ahead but is already buzzing about the chance to play his first major game in his home city.
“I would have gone and watched that game anyway, he said.
“It’s exciting to think I might be a part of it.”h3. Your title here…