When Gerhard de Beer left his hometown of Pretoria half a dozen years ago to set sail for the United States, he had high hopes of making a name for himself in athletics.
As the 2012 World Junior Athletics Championships discus bronze medalist he had a bright future in track and field, but little did he realise that American football – a sport that, apart from the ball, not even closely resembles the rugby he played at Affies – would be his destiny.
The 2.01m, 145kg De Beer has now made a name for himself as a big-hitting linebacker for his university side the Arizona Wildcats over the past few years while studying towards a degree in economy and industry. But his plans of becoming a teacher will have to take a back seat for now after he earned a ticket to professional gridiron stardom at the weekend.
After missing out during the National Football League’s draft pick, he was offered a contract as a free agent with the Buffalo Bills, the only NFL team to play their home matches in New York. They are four-time Super Bowl runners-up.
Should his career in the NFL take off, he will be one of only a handful South Africans to play gridiron at the highest level. Gary Anderson was the first South African to appear in a regular season NFL game and ended up playing for more than two decades, with his longest stint at the Pittsburgh Steelers.
De Beer did initially make strides in athletics, recording the fourth-longest discus throw in Arizona’s history (61.95m) and finishing fourth at the national student championships in 2016 before retiring to focus on his newfound love. But he does admit it was a steep learning curve, having never played the game before settling in the States.
Take a look at the clip below from 2016.
“It took me a year and a bit just to understand the concepts of the offensive line, let alone the rest of the game of football,” De Beer told the Heslop Sports website last year, adding that he had to ask team-mate Luca Bruno about the very basics of the game.
“I had to ask him how to put on my pads and he looked at me all funny. He’d say, ‘Are you serious?'”
But since those early days he has found his niche.
“I love knocking the crap out of somebody, it’s great. And (the offensive line) is the only place that you can do it without getting in trouble.”
The Bulls’ loss is the Bills’ gain.