Australian Joel Dixon came to Birmingham in January to play football for UAB. The Blazers will be back in action September 2 following a two-year hiatus. At 26 years old, Dixon is by far the oldest person on the team, and began his athletic career playing Australian Rules Football, which he describes as American football without pads. Dixon explains Australian rules football by comparing it to a game made famous in the fictional Harry Potter series.
“Australian Rules Football is kind of like Quidditch but kicking the ball,” Dixon says. “It’s an oval-shaped field. The object is to kick to your team’s possession and pretty much kick goals. Hence why a lot of the Australians who are over here are punters.”
Australian Rules Football is a cross between rugby, American football, and soccer, played on a free range kind of field. Players can run in any direction and a player with a ball can be tackled from any angle. Other than tackling and playing with an oval-shaped ball, Dixon says Australian Rules Football is very different from the American game.
“I knew like three plays,” he says. “[I] didn’t know anything about positions other than punting and kicking. That’s pretty much it. And just the points. I just didn’t really know much at all. The thing that amazes me is how many plays there are [and] how people can remember every play; like the quarterbacks will know exactly where the plays are meant to be. Lucky for a punter we only need to know about eight different plays.”
Like many other Australian footballers, Dixon joined a training camp called Prokick. It’s run by former NFL players from Australia who teach up-and-coming athletes the skills needed to play American football. Dixon says they learn how to read and execute plays, different player positions and playing with pads on, something Australian Rules’ athletes are not accustomed to doing.
“It was hard to adjust to it,” he says. “We would have our pads and helmet on just during practice all the time and just kind of getting used to it and getting the feel of it. And now it’s kind of become a bit more comfortable.”
This isn’t Dixon’s first time in the U.S. He spent two years in northern California before briefly returning to Australia in 2016. He came to Birmingham in January of this year and says the city reminds him of home.
“I love it, honestly. And I find [Alabama] really similar to country Australia, just how people are and how people interact. You know everyone’s for the most part pretty friendly. And everyone kind of just goes at that their own pace, which is good.”
Dixon loves his Australian heritage and he’s tried to share a little of that culture with his American friends. He’s a big fan of Vegemite. Think vegetable-flavored jelly or jam made from leftover brewer’s yeast extract. He brought a few big jars of Vegemite to Alabama following his last visit home, but he says he hasn’t met one American who enjoys eating it.
“You have to be Australian. Yeah, it’s strange, but when I smell it, though, it makes me miss home,” he says.
Listen next week when Dixon teaches Esther how to punt a football like a boss.