David Lonie (right) during his NFL career.
David Lonie (right) during his NFL career. Christian Petersen

Pottsville soccer player returns to first love

FOOTBALL Far North Coast's premier division is a far cry from the glitz and glamour of the NFL, where million-dollar salaries clash with million-dollar athletes with million-dollar egos.

But for Pottsville soccer player David Lonie, it's an adjustment he's had to make quickly.

Lonie's right foot used to be worth a minimum of $265,000 a season as a punter with the Green Bay Packers.

Now he pays fees to play for Pottsville and his premier division side will play Ballina at Saunders Park, Ballina, on Saturday.

The Panthers' striker saw out his last NFL contract with the Packers at the end of the 2007 season after a serious foot injury at training.

And despite being offered a chance to fight for a new contract with New Orleans recently, the extreme sports junkie has decided to call his NFL career over.

"I've just bought a house on the Gold Coast with my wife Kristen and it's hard to uproot your life," Lonie said.

The foot injury was a disappointing end to a career that started by chance.

Lonie left Australia in 1999 with a backpack and a sense of adventure as he travelled to the United States to be a soccer coach at an American summer camp.

He kicked around with the kids at camp and was out-punting some who had been recruited to play College football.

"The kids were joking that I should be playing in the NFL," Lonie recalled.

"But I didn't think much of it."

In the winter he moved to England and played with semi-professional club Hayes before returning to summer camp for a second year.

"The summer camp director had a friend who was a former NFL kicker and he offered to hook me up," Lonie said.

"He (the kicker) came down, we made a tape of me kicking and we sent it off to 10 major universities."

All of them offered full scholarships to the former Gold Coast soccer player - a Canadian Football team offered a contract - but he eventually settled with the University of California and their popular team, the Golden Bears.

The game didn't come particularly easy to the 1.98 metre 100kg Australian and punters are often derided in American football.

But by his sheer size, skill and ability, Lonie won over the media, fans, team-mates and NFL scouts.

The fact he was an Australian also helped and Lonie said he was looked on as a novelty.

But his nationality also helped later in his career as former AFL player Darren Bennett became a good friend and trusted mentor.

Bennett was the first Australian punter in the NFL with the San Diego Chargers.

Lonie was signed by the Washington Redskins as a free agent in 2006 as a rookie 26-year-old and after being released he headed to Green Bay.

"It was a good move going there (Green Bay)," Lonie said.

"My college quarterback was backing up Brett Favre so I knew a few of the players.

"It was such an experience. People come out in the snow at 6am just to get your autograph before training.

"We got a police escort to the airports, then took a private jet to an away game, and then got a police escort to the stadium.

"Now I'm driving down to Pottsville and paying for fuel."

But Lonie is not too disappointed to be playing locally.

Soccer is his first love and he linked with Pottsville because his younger brother Mark is playing for the Panthers.

"It was crazy that I played in the NFL and the money was unbelievable," Lonie said. "But I'm loving playing soccer again."


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