Australian Bailey Devine-Scott made tackles, not kicks at Tropical Bowl All-Star game

Arriving at the SPIRAL Tropical Bowl, it only took until the hotel lobby before Bailey Devine-Scott was asked the question. Checking in with his football gear in tow, he needed only to open his mouth for someone to make a guess at his position.

“Oh, so you must be a punter?”

For many, his Australian accent immediately pegs him as a specialist in the grand tradition of Aussie Rules converts. It’s an easy assumption to make, but those who judge the book by its linguistic cover are sorely mistaken.

Not much for kicking footballs, Devine-Scott is a highly decorated safety, one of a growing number of Aussies in college football plying their trade at non-specialist positions.

“It’s great to see. A lot of the players I played with back in Australia, there’s a few of us that have actually gone through the college ranks and more that are trying to move over here,” he says with a smile. “It’s really good to see a lot of younger guys now trying to get through and actually play the sport, not just come over and kick a few balls.”

While he was misidentified as a punter at check-in, Devine-Scott got a chance last week to prove he could compete as a defensive back at the highest level. First launched in 2016, the Tropical Bowl is an annual college football all-star game for draft eligible prospects. Held in Orlando, Florida in Camping World Stadium — home of the famous Citrus Bowl — more than 350 past participants have made their way to the NFL.

Bailey Devine-Scott (orange helmet) Photo: East Preps SPIRAL Tropical Bowl

It is company that the Aussie never imagined he would be a part of. Despite his distinguished collegiate career, he played at the Division 3 level for tiny Western New England University. He was decidedly under the radar, but that was where All22 came in.

The newly launched global scouting network partnered with the Tropical Bowl this season to reserve two spots for international athletes in the collegiate ranks. Already flagged by their team of US regional scouts as a global-born athlete, Devine-Scott quickly emerged as a top candidate for selection. When he got the message back home in Australia for the holidays, he almost couldn’t believe it.

“Never, never ever did I think I’d be playing in that game,” Devine-Scott grins. “Honestly it was something I never thought I would get to experience and I’m so glad I got the opportunity.”

While the opportunity was dream-like, it wasn’t simply a stroke of luck. Devine-Scott earned the chance with his play on the field, excelling at every stage of his remarkable football journey.

Growing up a rugby league player in Wattle Grove, he first picked up the sport at the age of 15 after falling in love with the NFL on TV and through Madden. He joined the local West Sydney Pirates for fun, but his aspirations quickly grew as he saw success at the state and national team level. That film earned him a handful of college opportunities in the US, where he eventually chose Western New England due to an academic scholarship in mechanical engineering.

Devine-Scott admits he had never even heard about the school until he arrived on campus for a visit, but it was a decision he never regretted. In three seasons on the field, he racked up 133 total tackles, 16 pass breakups and two interceptions while twice being named first team all-conference. In 2021, Devine-Scott was awarded the conference’s Senior Perseverance and Achievement Award for his outstanding career.

While that got him to Orlando, he was far from the most impressive resume in attendance. Surrounded by Division 1 stars, Devine-Scott actually had to register Western New England while filling out form. It was the first time a player from that school had reached the Tropical Bowl stage, but he didn’t shrink in the presence of big school talents.

“I had my Western New England university bag. People were pulling up with Michigan State bags, Michigan jerseys and Washington helmets, things I’d never thought I’d ever see. I was excited to see the talent,” Devine-Scott says. “I was excited to play against these guys and see how I compared. I loved the speed of the game. The game just moved so fast and everyone was at a certain level, they knew what they were doing and they really loved their craft.”

The safety didn’t waste the opportunity to pick up pointers from top tier coaches, focusing on keeping his feet patient despite the urge to quicken against elite receivers. While the week of practice was full of challenges, Devine-Scott discovered quickly he wasn’t out of place.

“My first one-on-one, this Ole Miss receiver broke me on an out and I was like “wow, they get out of their breaks pretty quick.’ But I had good catch up speed. I got to him,” he recalls. “Then there was one point where they ran a toss to my side and I came downhill and read it pretty quick. I came downhill and I fit up on the running back pretty well. I said to myself ‘I’m just playing football here’ and it started feeling natural again.”

Come gameday, Devine-Scott was able to get in to the rotation on both defense and special teams, finishing with one tackle. His only wish was that he could have been on the field even more. Like most college stars, he’s not used to waiting on the sideline.

While Devine-Scott once feared his football career might be over, the Tropical Bowl experience has cemented his belief that he can play at the next level. More than 90 scouts from across pro football have now seen Devine-Scott in action and he hopes that the Canadian Football League’s Global program will be his next step, though he remains open to other opportunities including in Europe.

The Aussie will do just about anything a pro team asks. Just don’t ask him to punt the football.

J.C. Abbott is a student at the University of British Columbia and amateur football coach in Vancouver, Canada. A CFL writer for 3DownNation, his love of travel has been the root of his fascination with the global game.