James Cherrington made an impressive debut playing gridiron in California this year.
The 17-year-old, who grew up playing rugby in Mangonui, played a crucial role in his Venice High team reaching the City Section Division 1 semi-final (where they were knocked out earlier this month, losing 25-30 to Crenshaw who advanced to the City championship final).
However, the Far North lad has certainly had an exciting time in the States both on and off the field. That included featuring in an article in the LA Times as Venice High's foreign exchange student, and what it felt like to play gridiron for the first time having come from a rugby background.
"I didn't know what I was doing," Cherrington admitted to Times reporter Eric Sodenheim about putting on a jersey and shoulder pads for the first time. However, fronting at 1.85m and 98kg, Cherrington recorded six sacks [i.e. tackling a ball carrier who intends to throw a forward pass] which saw him regarded by some as one of the best defensive ends in the City section and a College prospect next season.
And there was plenty of ribbing by teammates mimicking his Kiwi accent.
"I love it. There's nothing like it," he said of his gridiron and Californian experience, "I don't want to go home."
However, Cherrington will return for a bit of R&R over summer so will be able to share his USA experiences with friends and family.
Someone who is particularly looking forward to the homecoming is mum Sheridan Waitai, who noted James had also done some modelling for two LA labels: "Not bad for a li'l Maori boy from the north."
And she said she could take reassurance with James' sister working as a surf instructor in Ahipara. "At least I'll know where my kids will be."