How Australian punters took over American college football

Brett Thorson, a punter for Georgia who is from Melbourne, is in the top 10 in the FBS for punting yards. college Football.
Brett Thorson, a punter for Georgia who is from Melbourne, is in the top 10 in the FBS for punting yards. college Football

When TCU and Georgia play for the national championship on Monday, there will be two Australian punters on the field. Australia has become one of the best places for college football players to come from.

Joseph D’Hippolito Mon, January 9, 2023 10:00 GMT
During a college football game in Iowa on a Saturday afternoon, fans started to chant, which is a common thing for American sports fans to do.

This chant is often used to praise stars who play the more prestigious positions on the football field. But on this day, the person who got all this love wasn’t a quarterback or a wide receiver.

He threw the ball. An Australian gambler.

On September 3, Iowa beat South Dakota State 7-3. Tory Taylor may have been the most important part of that win. The man from Melbourne punted 10 times for a career-high 479 yards, which was also a career-high. Seven of his kicks landed inside the 20-yard line of the other team. Five of those seven balls landed in the Jackrabbits’ 10-yard line.

South Dakota State’s head coach, John Stiegelmeier, said, “That is a powerful weapon.” “I thought he kicked it out of bounds once and rolled it down to the 2-yard line. I told him at one point, “This kid is a freak.”

This “freak” shows how Australian punters are becoming more common and dominant in American college football.

In the College Football Playoff championship game on Monday night at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California, two of them will play each other. Brett Thorson, who is from Melbourne, will go up against Jordy Sandy, who is from nearby Traralgon and plays for Texas Christian. The semi-finals were played by Jesse Mirco, who is from Fremantle and plays for Ohio State.

A quick look at NCAA stats and individual awards shows how much of an impact Australian punters are having.

Four of the top 10 punters in the NCAA’s Football Bowl Subdivision, which is the highest level of college football, are from Australia. They have the most punts and total yards. Two punters were in the top 10, with Mirco coming in at number 10 with an average of 45.59 yards per punt.

Taylor made the All-America second team because he was second in yards (3,339) and fourth in punts (74). Mason Fletcher, who is from Melbourne and plays for Cincinnati, was a third-team All-American after coming in sixth in punting average (46.29). Fletcher’s father played Australian rules football for 23 seasons in the Australian Football League. Fletcher was also the best player on special teams in the American Athletic Conference.

At the same time, Adam Korsak of Rutgers won the most prestigious award for punting in college. Korsak got the Ray Guy Award because he tied for second place in attempts (75) and came in fourth place in yards (3,207). Guy is the only punter in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He played in the NFL for 14 years.

Korsak, who is also from Melbourne and is 25 years old, explained why Australians are doing well.

“We grew up kicking an Australian football back and forth with our friends or dad in the front yard, just like Americans might grow up throwing a baseball or an American football with their friends or dad,” he said. “It’s an instinct and a skill that we learn, and it’s easy to use in American football punting.”

But Australians who want to learn how to punt have to get used to different rules, requirements, and a ball that is lighter, a little bit longer, and has pointed ends.

“Quick punts, roll punts, and short-range punts are all very different,” said Mirco, who just finished his second season with the Buckeyes. “I still learn something new every day I’m here.”

The biggest change, according to Nathan Chapman, co-founder of Prokick Australia, which trains Australian rules players to become punters and place-kickers for American colleges, is “learning how to kick high.”

“There are some huge, huge changes that need to be made,” said Chapman, who punted for the AFL for eight years before failing to make it in the NFL. “We teach spiral kicks about 80% of the time. In Australia, when we hit a spiral, it’s usually because we want it to go far, not higher and shorter. They don’t understand how hard it is until they try to learn it with a different-shaped ball.

“People think that when Australians come over, they just do Aussie kicks while running. None of that is true.

“We need to be able to spiral to get there, and the guys are good at it. We actually hire them 95% of the time because they can spiral and do Australian kicks.”

At Prokick Australia, Mirco, Sandy, Thorson, Taylor, Fletcher, and Korsak all learned how to fight. Six of the top ten punters in the FBS in terms of punting yards went to that academy, including one from New Zealand and another from Ireland. The academy has become a pipeline for many American universities. Since Prokick Australia began in 2007, seven of its graduates have won the Guy Award, and 87 have been named All-America. Four are in the NFL right now.

The Texas Christian punter Jordy Sandy, on the right, could be very important in the national championship game between Georgia and Texas Christian on Monday night.
The Texas Christian punter Jordy Sandy, on the right, could be very important in the national championship game between Georgia and Texas Christian on Monday night.

A chance event can be the spark that makes you want to play American football. In 2019, when Mirco was on vacation in the United States, he saw Max Duffy, a fellow Irishman, punt for Kentucky.

“In Australia, I started kicking when I was four years old. Mirco, also 25, said, “It’s something I love to do and have been good at my whole life.” “I wanted to play sports again, and this gave me a chance to do so.”

Sandy, who was 29 years old and living in Traralgon, was working in a paper mill when he and a coworker decided to switch jobs.

He said, “It’s a pretty big job in my hometown.” “So we worked together in shifts of 12 hours, on Sundays and at night. I think we both came to the conclusion that there must be more out there for us.”

After their shifts ended at 6am, both men would carpool to Prokick Australia in Melbourne. “It would be a four-hour round trip three times a week,” Sandy said. Tom Hutton, who worked with him, got a scholarship to Oklahoma State, where he is now the oldest college player at age 32.

But getting used to American college football is more than just learning how to kick and the rules.

“When you first come here, you don’t really have any family or friends,” Mirco said. “Your teammates and staff can help you with that, but you need to start figuring things out on your own and grow up. It’s not only about football.”

Australia’s strict Covid-19 rules, which stopped people from going abroad, made things worse. Because of these rules, the family of Old Dominion quarterback Hayden Wolfe took in Australian punter Ethan Duane in 2020. Duane hadn’t seen his own family in almost two years.

Sandy had to stay on campus when his father got pancreatitis in Australia because of rules.

Sandy said, “His organs shut down, and I was kind of stuck during Covid.” “Being away from family was really hard, you know.”

Yet, there isn’t much room for personal sadness in college, especially if you’re an athlete.

Korsak said, “It was hard to get used to, but I wasn’t really homesick.” “But I felt like I was able to keep myself busy enough and take things day by day so that I didn’t miss home.”

College becomes a second home as time goes on.

Sandy said, “I grew up in a small country town about two hours east of Melbourne, Australia, and I wasn’t sure what to expect.” “But I’ve seen a lot of America, and in terms of culture and people, I think Texas is the most like Australia. I fell in love with the place, and I want to stay here for a long time.”

Sandy even started a charity in her own town. Sandy gives $20 to the Hope Center for Autism in Fort Worth, Texas, for every punt he puts inside the opponent’s 20-yard line. Other donors have given the same amount or more.

“Back home, I have a cousin who has autism,” he said. “I’ve seen some of the hard times her family has had to go through.”

Taylor sells T-shirts in Iowa that say “Punting is Winning” and “Oi! It’s Taylor Time!” to raise money for Count The Kicks, an organisation that works to prevent stillbirths. In 2017, Brian Ferentz, who was the offensive coordinator, and his wife, Nikki, lost their unborn daughter.

Taylor, Mirco, Thorson, and Fletcher all still have time to play. There are more Aussies coming. Chapman said that Prokick Australia is currently training about 60 Australians to join them.

Sandy said, “I hope we can keep it going.” “It’s really cool to be able to play against or watch some Australian guys here in the U.S. It’s been a lot of fun.”

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