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Cardinals Sign Aussie Rules Player Joel Wilkinson

Posted Feb 16, 2016

Will work as cornerback; Team also extends safety Chris Clemons

The Cardinals signed former Australian Rules Football player Joel Wilkinson (right), here meeting coach Bruce Arians Tuesday, to play cornerback.

The Cardinals signed a pair of defensive backs Tuesday, including extending veteran safety Chris Clemons before he hit free agency in March.

The other pickup comes from the other side of the world.

The Cardinals have signed former Australian Rules Football player Joel Wilkinson, a 6-foot, 190-pound cornerback hopeful who is trying to make it in the NFL after a career in the Australian game.

Wilkinson is the second Australian athlete to come to the NFC West in the past year. The 49ers signed running back Jarryd Hayne last year. Hayne made the 49ers out of training camp before eventually finishing the season on the practice squad.

Wilkinson said he has followed the NFL since he was a young boy growing up in Australia and playing in the league is "something I have always aspired to be."

Wilkinson, 24, retired from the Australian Rules game play to pursue an NFL career. He first was with the Gold Coast Suns of the AFL, before moving on to the Northern Blues of the VFL. He played in 53 total contests for the two teams. His brief time as a pro – he debuted in 2011 – was marked most famously by enduring racial remarks from an opposing player.

He's been working out in the Phoenix-area for five months, trying to line up an NFL opportunity. The Cardinals were his main focus, and the team signed Wilkinson after a pair of tryouts.

Wilkinson isn’t the first Australian Rules Football player to come to the Cardinals. Ben Graham, who punted for the team for four years including the Super Bowl season, was an AFL veteran before coming to the NFL. Wilkinson said he had some "brief discussions" with Graham about the league and the Cardinals.

"Naturally people are going to assume I’m a punter coming from my sport," Wilkinson said. "But cornerback is a position very similar to what I played in Australia."

Wilkinson said he played "tagging defender," shadowing the opposition's top player, much like a cornerback. "There is much more I need to improve on and prepare for, but I’m committed," he said.

The Cardinals were also the first team to draft an Australian player when they took defensive end Colin Scotts in the third round in 1987. Scotts, who played in college at the University of Hawaii, played one season with the team.  

Clemons played in the first five games of the season before hurting his groin and going on injured reserve. He was given an injury settlement, and re-signed late in the season, playing in the final two games plus both playoff games. 

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