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Utah Utes football: Coming to America, Ute Punter Sean Sellwood made a sacrifice

By Connor Malmberg

For the Deseret News

Published: Tuesday, Nov. 6 2012 4:07 p.m. MST

Time and time again, college football coaches emphasize the importance of field position. One of the more critical elements in that process is a team’s punter, and Utah is fortunate to have a good one in senior Sean Sellwood. While taking a long snap and booming a 40-plus yard punt has become fairly routine for Sellwood, his journey to major college football certainly was anything but routine.

For many football players, reaching the collegiate level is a goal they have chased most of their lives. As young boys, they grow up watching their favorite teams and dream about running out of the tunnel under the bright lights in a cathedral-like stadium. But for Sellwood, who is a native of South Africa, the idea of playing American football was a completely foreign concept.

Sellwood spent the early years of his life in the city of Durban along South Africa’s eastern coast, participating in rugby, cricket, track and soccer. When Sellwood was nine, his father was transferred to a mining company in Johannesburg, and his involvement in sports accelerated when he enrolled at an all-boys school.

Sellwood excelled at every sport, especially soccer. At the age of 13, Sellwood competed on an all-state soccer team that traveled to Brazil and won an international tournament for their age group.

Sellwood’s father was transferred again when he was 15, this time to Utah. His life, in many aspects, was changing.

“It was extremely hard at first. Culturally, things back home were more laid back and there was more going on,” Sellwood said. “It was a lot different and took me awhile to adjust to the new lifestyle. Leaving my friends that I had grown up with was really hard. But leaving my family back home, wondering if I would ever see them again, was extremely tough on me.”

As if that wasn’t hard enough, Sellwood also had to adjust to a new sports culture.

“Back in South Africa, going to a high school rugby game was a big event. You made a day out of it by having a barbeque and hanging with friends,” Sellwood said. “Coming here was culturally different because it was nothing like that. I remember one time the coach said we were going to have a soccer banquet, so my parents got everything ready expecting this all day thing. But then people here showed up, presented the awards, ate and left. It was really different from what we were expecting. So it was those little cultural things that were different for me.”

Getting settled in at Salt Lake City’s Judge Memorial High School proved to be an adjustment process as well. For someone who grew up in a culture where authority was afforded more respect than in it is America, Sellwood was surprised by what he experienced.

“In South Africa, when you walk into a classroom the students don’t sit down until they have greeted the teacher; here it is not that way,” he explained. “The way kids are raised here is completely different than how it was back in South Africa, which took me some time to get accustomed to.”

While settling in and making friends, Sellwood was introduced to the game of American football for the first time.

“I had heard about football, but the very first time I had ever seen a game was when I was in high school,” Sellwood recalled. “It was a crazy experience.”

As a junior, Sellwood was approached by his high school’s football coaches about playing on the team.

“Our football team needed a kicker, so I decided to start doing that since it was something I did in rugby,” Sellwood explained. “After awhile, I learned that I could kick the ball very well. Playing for the first time, I thought football was crazy. During my first couple of high school games I was completely lost. I had no idea what the rules were or what was going on.”

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