Aussie Rules: Buckeyes Find Punter Down Under

By Kyle Rowland on June 9, 2013 at 6:00a
47 Comments
The future of Ohio State punting.

Early-arriving crowds are nothing new at Ohio Stadium. Fans have arrived to the college football cathedral well before kickoff for nearly a century to take in the ramp entrance. Starting in 2013, there could be another pre-game attraction: the best damn punter in the land.

At least that’s what Nathan Chapman says. Chapman, a coach at ProKick Australia in Melbourne, trained Cameron Johnston, Ohio State’s presumed-to-be starting punter for 2013 and beyond. The Buckeyes have not confirmed Johnston’s status, but he said he accepted a scholarship and landed in Columbus Wednesday night.

The catch? Johnston is a 21-year-old former Australian Rules Football player who’s never played American football. But he possesses a right leg with cannon-like qualities and the speed and athleticism of a wide receiver.

“I think fans will enjoy watching him warm up before a game,” Chapman told Eleven Warriors in a phone interview from Melbourne. “What’s normally relatively boring will be fun.”

Aussie Rules Football is a unique sport that requires a plethora of skills to be competitive – speed, peripheral vision, good hands and a strong leg. That final characteristic is how Johnston developed into a valuable commodity half a world away. Precise placement on kicks is of utmost importance in Aussie Rules. When Johnston stands at his own 35 at the Horseshoe, Chapman said 10 out of 10 times he’ll land the ball inside the 10 because “that’s what we would expect from him.”

Johnston is described as intelligent with an outsized personality, which isn’t rare for Australians who play college football. They’re known for being good-natured and charismatic. That air of confidence mixed with exuberance allows them to play more freely.  

“Australians are typically carefree, always happy to have a laugh and have a beer,” Chapman said. “I’ve never seen Cameron in a bad mood. He’s always laughing, smiling and jumping around. If you’re talking charismatic and enthusiastic, that’s Cameron.”

ProKick Australia has etched out a large footprint in college football, stocking rosters with punters who can flip field position. Last season, ProKick alum Alex Dunnachie led the nation in punting average for Hawaii at 46 yards per boot. Minnesota and Indiana also have former ProKick players, while Brad Wing parlayed a successful Aussie Rules career into stardom at LSU.

The academy puts the hopefuls through a rigorous 12-month series of workouts, training and instruction that readies them to compete at the highest level of college football. Johnston has been one of the most exceptional pupils the program has ever produced, according to Chapman. He talks of consistent punts of 65 yards, some even going 80 yards, hang times at nearly 5.5 seconds and 4.4 speed for Johnston. It sounds too good to be true, but video would suggest reality.

“He’s got more than what’s normally required,” said Chapman, who attempted to make the Green Bay Packers’ roster in 2004. “He’s got all the tools and ability, he just has to make sure he’s in the right environment and utilize it – leg strength, core strength in his timing, the Aussie Rules background.

“He’s got more than what’s normally required. HE’S GOT ALL THE TOOLS AND ABILITY.” 

“He’s a very fit, strong and athletic type of kid. We did a lot of technical stuff in our program. We make sure they utilize the strength in their body so they kick higher and longer. He understands how to maximize his strengths through technique. We made sure he increased all his skills and that he’s harnessing all of his talent.”

It became apparent early on that Johnston was a special talent. In the spring, Chapman began sending tape of Johnston to college coaches around the country. ProKick has sent 25 punters to the United States, so they have plenty of contacts halfway across the world, and it doesn’t hurt when you have a good track record.

Ohio State originally heard from Chapman last September. But Johnny Townsend had already caught the Buckeyes’ eye and only relying on film of someone who had never played American football was too risky.

When Townsend spurned Ohio State for Florida late in the recruiting process, the Buckeyes were once again in the market for a punter. Placekicker Drew Basil handled punting duties during the spring with an average of 34 yards per punt in the spring game.

“Special teams have to improve, and they will improve,” said special teams coordinator Kerry Coombs.

He and head coach Urban Meyer expressed confidence in the senior, but having one person handle the kicking is not the preferred route. Johnston’s arrival should put the coaches at ease.

“We have to try and convince a coach that someone who’s never played the game before will come in and do a good job in front of 100,000 people,” Chapman said. “Those are the barriers we have to jump across. Some teams can’t take that leap of faith and others do, and then they look for the next Australian guy in line. For a coach who’s never had an Australian before it can be scary. They don’t want to waste scholarships and be the one who makes a bad decision.”

Chances are Ohio State's search will prove fruitful, considering Johnston’s other main suitor was Alabama. Either decision the Aussie made was going to come with high expectations from coaches used to winning and fanbases that seek perfection. An adjustment to the American way of life and a college workload is also part of the equation.

It’s a scenario not many young adults could handle. Columbus is nearly 10,000 miles from Melbourne. Johnston’s only previous visit to the U.S. came on a 24-hour visit to Ohio State.

Fearless punter.Johnston doesn't shy away from contact. 

“No matter how many times you tell someone, unless you’ve experienced it yourself, I don’t think anyone is prepared,” Chapman said. “Parents think they understand it from watching it on TV, but then they go across and see a game and they say, ‘What I thought I knew was nothing like what I felt and experienced when I was there.’

“We give them information on what they should expect and how big it’s going to get. We tell them to be aware of it, but you have to find your own feet when you get there. It’s going to come fast and they’re going to come at you from every angle, and the environment is going to be big. That’s why we only suggest certain guys for the program.

“Cameron’s not going to go in there all googly-eyed and jaw-dropped looking around him. He’s going to ask where he’s kicking from and what the best angle to kick is. He’s got that professional mindset of how to get the job done. He’ll have a smile on his face and say, ‘That was fun.’ But it’s not going to distract him from the job he needs to do.”

The biggest modification Johnston will have to make, according to Chapman, will come in practice time. In Australia, there isn’t the hustle and bustle between drills like structured college practices have. But the time spent around a professional setting down under will give the vibe of a similar atmosphere. Johnston is even familiar with cold weather, having kicked on 30-degree cold, wet and windy days.

“They’re very passionate about their pro football over here,” Chapman said. “What they don’t have is a college system people are involved in. More of the story is about how crazy the college system is, how much they support it and how big the games are. Everyone loves the local sport. Australia is one of the sporting capitals of the world in terms of absolute rabid fans, but it will be different because he hasn’t seen many American football games.

“Come Monday, the learning curve will start.”

47 Comments

Comments

Buckeye1996's picture

I am so jacked up about about a punter! lol. This is a great story and I love the Aussies. Sounds like Cameron could be special, and more than likely start a huge following of buckeye fans.

BigBuck623's picture

If the refs in college football wore 3-piece white tuxedos like the refs do in Aussie Rules football.. I have no idea how to finish that sentence, but it would be awesome.

cplunk's picture

I can't believe I'm excited about a punter. Tressel clearly changed my life.
i just hope this guy doesn't try to drink water during stretching.

cinserious's picture

Forget water, he deserves a Foster's.

"Get him a body bag, Yeah!"

LouGroza's picture

Certainly hope we all take notice of when a door closes on Urban, ala Townsend, Anzalone, Quick, etc., someone more intriguing walks through another door. Like Mitchell, Wilson, Johnson, Clark and now he may possibly have brought in the best punter we have seen at OSU in quite a while. Personally cannot wait for what lies ahead with this class that some seem to be worried about, what I do not know. Wonder how many great classes he will have to bring in to get everyone to just sit back and enjoy the great show we have taking place before our very eyes?

Poison nuts's picture

This! I was thinking the same thing. Every time a door closes on Urban, he simply opens another door with something even better behind it...I'd like to think come this season we'll find out this kid is so good that nobody will even remember there was an issue with a punter that went to Florida instead of OSU...

"Death created time to grow the things that it would kill" - Detective Rustin Cohle.

cinserious's picture

I was thinking the same thing about Urban missing out on his first choices and things seem a little distressed for a minute. Then you realize who Ohio State's head coach is and the fact that he always gets his man!  The first such situation for me arose when Meyer was assembling his new staff at OSU and his DB coach bolted for the NFL. Soon after we got Kerry Coombs and I'm sure none of us can imagine an environment without the passion and excitement he brings to the table. Coombs fits the bill of a guy who 'coaches like his hair's on fire'.

"Get him a body bag, Yeah!"

BeijingBucks's picture

Well you gotta feel kinda bad for him a little.
He'll get to showcase his skills what, 2-3 times a game tops?  He shoulda gone to AACC if he wanted real work.  :)
Hearing Bama was considering him though I'm just glad he is off their oversigned roster.
O-H! (Aussie accent!)

Boom777's picture

I'm looking forward to some trick plays.

Wherever you are, there you be!

BeijingBucks's picture

why not use him as a holder in FG situations... if he truly runs a 4.4!  hilarity ensues.  i can see him shedding helmet and pads so he can run freeeeeee w a fake!!!
What's the rule on FG anyway?  Does it have to be fixed point of contact or can he run amuck and then kick it through the uprights Aussie rules style?

spqr2008's picture

I remember in the NFL you can do that.  I'm pretty sure Doug Flutie did this in a game in the early oughts.  Not sure if it is legal in college.

CentralFloridaBuckeye's picture

Wow!  Outstanding distance!  I was fairly concerned when Johnny Townsend did  not come to OSU.  It looks like Cameron has some serious potential!!  I watched the video and was very impressed.  Hopefully he will fit in and be able to punt like that during game situations.  I really like this addition to the team!! 
Good Luck Cameron and hope that you become one of the best punters OSU has had in a while!
Go Bucks!

AltaBuck's picture

Vegemite will now be on team menu.
 
 

I have been known on occasion to howl at the moon. - Crash Davis

hetuck's picture

I assume this means OSU will spread the field on punts & roll him to either side and always have a run option. That will add excitement to every punt. It also limits return options unless he line drives it with no hang time. IIRC OSU returned one of those last year for a TD. And I wonder about drop kick rules. Is a missed drop kick treated like a field goal and returned to the LOS?

Winning is a habit. Unfortunately, so is losing.

Vince Lombardi

cajunbuckeye's picture

I didn't get excited about this until after my first cup of coffee, a shower, and I had dressed for the day. As soon as I slipped on my sweater vest, this story had newfound importance. Strange, but I somehow feel that we've just added the most important piece of the football puzzle.

An angry fan...rooting for an angry team...led by angry coaches

spqr2008's picture

Someone fix my down vote please.  Fat fingered.

Hovenaut's picture

Have a feeling in a few years time we'll be referring to punters as the "Cameron position".

Welcome aboard, oi!

"Success - it's what you do with what you got" - Woody Hayes

Bamabucknut's picture

WOW.
What an exciting player !

chicagobuckeye's picture

Question to any one with knowledge, if he is so athletic do we know if he will be punting normally, or engage in the rugby style punt? He seems to be just fine under the normal style of punting so I am just wondering what others think?

BuckeyeNationProblems's picture

This is the first time in my life I've been jacked about a punter. Really. 

Matt

AhhYes's picture

This is such a great development. I was pretty concerned about having our placekicker be our punter. Seems like an accident waiting to happen. 
This is soooo much cooler than that. 
Kinda want to pass out till August. 

buckeyemondo's picture

Any footage of this guy making a form tackle?  Not every kick will have 5 second hang time... couple shanks in the uncut part of the video, too.  But huge upgrade on the current punting situation. 

thatlillefty's picture

Just wondering... did Perkins' recent dismissal impact the timing of this signing? In other words, is Cameron picking up the open scholarship, or were we already below 85?

hetuck's picture

82 for 2013.

Winning is a habit. Unfortunately, so is losing.

Vince Lombardi

thatlillefty's picture

That's right... but the question remains. Did Perkins' dismissal open a spot for the Aussie.

zbd's picture

I have found some wonderful things "down under".  A top punter with 4.4 speed. Now send Mel Gibson back there.

salberico's picture

4 years of eligibility? Or less?

gravey's picture

Australia, meet Buckeye Nation!
Oi-H-I-Oiiiiii  Mate!

Tomc383's picture

Lol - gonna be funny when he hears someone say they are 'rooting' for him!

THE...

jestertcf's picture

He approves this signing

~Because we couldn't go for three~

Vabuck213's picture

Does anybody know any specifics of his eligibility and how many years he has? Also does the fact that he played professionally in Australia affect his status in any way?
Kid sounds like a stud and will be a huge boost to our special teams and our championship run I just hope everything goes smoothly NCAA-wise. Never know what those clowns are gonna do next.

Basso Profondo's picture

What's up with the Buckeyes still not confirming his status?

TBDBITL0509's picture

Glad you posted this because I was about to - this seems odd.

northcampus's picture

OSU is working through the process of confirming academic requirements (transcripts, etc.).  Nothing to worry about, just takes time to go through the academia approval avenues and "dot the i's" before making this official.  The kid will definitely be a fan favorite.

cinserious's picture

As if our offense needed any more help! Cameron might give us an additional 20% better field position advantage. Not only that, but he's strong, athletic and runs a 4.4 fourty time? How do you defend against a guy who can precisely pin you behind the 10-yd line OR be alegit threat to fake and make you pay. Maybe our average ppg goes from 85 to 99.

"Get him a body bag, Yeah!"

rkylet83's picture

All that kicking is in the Australian blood, hell its on their flag.

Buckeye1996's picture

I see what you did there. That arse should be replaced with the mitten up north!

rkylet83's picture

That would be cool. but I had to keep the original from The Simpsons Bart vs Australia.

ShowThemOhiosHere's picture

Dude, I can't wait.  Not only does he have a huge leg, but with that speed, he could run a few fake punts, too.  How well can he throw?

Class of 2010.

Nick's picture

He should have 4 years of eligibility like someone coming from high school. 

harleymanjax's picture

Throw another Wolverine on the barbie mate!

"Because I couldn't go for 3"

Patriot4098's picture

4.4! AND he's used to taking guys down.  NOT a punter to be f***ed with.

"Evil shenanigans!"     - Mac

thirtytrap's picture

Aussie huh...well if he can't kick from what I have learned is that he will be able to drink and fight.  :-)
 

bdegroff's picture

I would think one thing would be for certain. If he can keep a consistant hang time if 4.5 seconds plus, the Bucks should have the best opponent return yardage in the nation. It was also note worthy that the height of his foot when punting was never higher than his head. I will be very impressed if he can do this under pressure. Great find by Urban and Co.!!

cinserious's picture

Lemme get this straight, we might have 4.5 seconds for coach Coombs' piranhas to swarm and attack a poor defenseless return man? Its over!

"Get him a body bag, Yeah!"

VintonCountyBuck's picture

Austrailian Rules punter, hey?

“Right now, Michigan is not at the pinnacle of college football, and that’s all Urban Meyer cares about...He’s been there and knows what it takes to get there.”