That's Australian for Living Up to the Hype

By Kyle Rowland on September 10, 2013 at 9:15a
60 Comments

Cameron Johnston may struggle with driving on the right side of the road – literally – but kicking is kicking, regardless of the country. The YouTube phenom that Ohio State signed based solely on those highlight videos has quickly made an impact on the Buckeyes.

In two games, Johnston has punted seven times with an average of 42 yards per boot. He’s pinned opponents inside the 20 twice and is yet to yield a single return yard. Ohio State’s special teams have been lauded the first two weeks, but most of the attention has gone to the piranhas on the kick coverage unit. Lost in the shuffle is Johnston.

“That’s pretty good. That would be our goal,” special teams coordinator Kerry Coombs said matter-of-factly when the topic of zero return yards was brought up. “That’s what we would like our punter to do – 43 yards, 4.3 second hang time. We feel like with the speed of our punt team, we can cover that. We’re excited about Cameron. He’s not great yet, but he’s serviceable.”

Teaching Johnston how to improve as a punter is much more manageable than the process of recruiting him. The Buckeyes thought they were gaining a four-year starter at punter when Johnny Townsend committed. However, that plan went kaput on National Signing Day when Townsend opted to stay in state and attend Florida.

Suddenly, Ohio State had no scholarship punter and was forced to press place-kicker Drew Basil into double duty. Following spring practice, head coach Urban Meyer and Coombs pledged their support and confidence in Basil to handle the job. But when a scholarship came free, Meyer knew exactly how it would be used.

“Kerry Coombs was almost on a plane to Australia in May,” Meyer said. “I mean, like, checking flights and everything. He was going to leave on a Tuesday, but we said we can’t have you go there because he can’t work out for you. We had [Johnston] come [to Columbus], and we took him.”

It wasn’t the first time Meyer forged a long-distance relationship. No, this story doesn’t involve his wife, Shelley. Instead, it’s another longhaired blonde – Cole Magner. The wide receiver from Alaska was a prospect during Meyer’s time at Bowling Green. Due to a limited athletic budget, a trip to the Last Frontier wasn’t on the agenda. Still, Meyer was able to snag Magner, who was a fan favorite and enjoyed a standout career with the Falcons.

Johnston, a short redhead with pointed ears, may not look the part. One swing of his leg, though, removes all doubt. He’s a former Aussie Rules football player and also had successful amateur careers in track and field and cricket. All that took a detour to American football.

“It would be fun if I could make a hit.” -Cameron johnston

He spent a year at ProKick Australia, the same training ground for other Australian-born college punters and kickers. When you boom the ball 60 yards, college recruiters are bound to find you. The Buckeyes did, and took the leap of faith.

“Isn’t that an amazing story?” Coombs said. “Through an awful lot of connections and conversations, we found a kid who I believe is truly special in a lot of ways. He’s gifted. He can kick the ball a long way. He can kick it high. He can kick it where you want him to kick it.”

Johnston can also use multiple styles. He’s used the traditional style and rugby style. It’s only been in recent seasons that ruby style punting has become popular in college football. Most fans have great disdain for it, but when an Australian does it, and does so effectively, the jeering seems to subside.

“He’s a fast athlete, so we might be able to do some things with him, moving the pocket and so forth,” Meyer said.

The list of Ohio State players with an international or rugby background has grown exponentially in recent seasons. South African Ryan Pretorious, a former pro rugby player, and Devin Barclay, a former MLS player, each served the Buckeyes as kickers, while special teams ace and defensive back Nate Ebner, a member of the U.S. national rugby development program, became a star at Ohio State and parlayed it into an NFL career with the New England Patriots.

A major factor in the coaches taking a liking to Johnston is his age. He’s 21, which makes him more mature than your average college freshman.

“He’s a tremendous kid,” Meyer said. “Twenty-one years old, so he’s not that 17-year-old wide-eyed freshman that looks at you like, ‘What planet am I on?’”

Perhaps the most unique thing about Johnston, though, is his drive for physicality. Most punters usually shy away from contact. If a returner or blocker darts toward them, they’ll make a half-hearted attempt at becoming involved in the play.

Not Johnston. His Aussie Rules background means he spent game days kicking and getting tackled with little padding under his uniform.

“He's a tough guy,” Coombs said. “He’s an athlete. He is absolutely gifted with his feet and can do great things punting the football. It was a long journey and it took a lot of convincing, to be honest with you, but we have got a guy who has a chance to be very, very special and a great weapon for our team.”

Said Johnston: “It would be fun if I could make a hit. But hopefully the punts are good enough, and we’ve got some great people out there that are going to make some massive tackles.”

Basil and walk-on wide receiver Devlin McDaniel have been Johnston’s guides to American culture. They’ve made sure he drives on the correct side of the road and joked to him about eating dinner at Outback Steakhouse.

For Coombs, the biggest transition is learning to speak Australian, “which is remarkably different than English,” he said, laughing.

60 Comments

Comments

OSUStu's picture

I don't recall seeing any of the long, booming punts that were highlighted in his videos so far this year.  However, he does seem to have great hang time on his punts which is just, if not more, important.

If you always put limits on everything you do, physical or anything else, it will spread into your work and into your life. There are no limits. There are only plateaus, and you must not stay there, you must go beyond them.  ~ Bruce Lee

4thandinches's picture

Yeah we saw those 60 yard+ punts and were expecting something similar. But his hang time is great and I think with more playing time he will get his feel down and start kicking longer.
How about 52 yards/5.2 sec rule?

I wasn't born a Buckeye but I became one as fast as I could. 

jedkat's picture

Exactly. A 42 yard punt with 0 return yards is just as good as a 62 yard punt with 20 return yards because the punter outkicked our coverage.

"I was tired of trying to work my way around the back, so I just ran him over"

~ Joey Bosa

D-Day0043's picture

Exactly. There is a reason they use the 40 time to measure an athletes speed. A punt averages around 40 yards and the hang time around 4.2 seconds.

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jdagrava.1's picture

I wouldn't be surprised if Meyer and Coombs stressed hang time and location more than distance.  Like you all are saying, his punts seem to float in the air forever but don't travel the 60 yards that were advertised in the YouTube videos.  I'm guessing the coaches asked for such a change.
Additionally, I'd like to shamelessly name drop because I rarely get the opportunity to do so.  Ryan Pretorius and I were good friends.  I sold him a lease at the Commons on Kinnear on West Campus when he first got to Columbus and I hooked him up with one of my coworkers.  He was a great guy and was actually nice enough to get a football signed for me by the entire team (a gift for my father).  So yeah, there's that.

"It takes a little something special to be a great player.  What you got in you, we're going to find out.  And if there's a touch of greatness in there, how cool would that be?"

-Urban F. Meyer

BeijingBucks's picture

You saw what Coombs requires. A 43 yard punt with no return.  Rule of punting 'don't out kick your coverage'!
That being said, I also would like to see him uncork one just to see the returners head flip over with a wtf!?

 

 

None can love freedom heartily, but good men; the rest love not freedom, but license. ~ John Milton

Wilkins78's picture

In warm ups last saturday, he was kicking beautiful spirals from the 25-30 yard line and they were being caught between the goal line and the 5 yard line.  In games, he's typically kicking end over end to a spot with lots of hang time.  It looks like he can do it all and is just under instruction to do the latter at the moment.

spqr2008's picture

I think he's being coached to use hang time more than the length.  Because an average net punt yards of 42 is a good goal for most punters (average net = punt length -return yards).

RBuck's picture

What I like about Johnston is that he's only going to get better. Hell, he could be the only punter in history to leave early for the NFL from what I know.

"It's just another case of there you are". ~ Doc (1918-2012)

BrooklynBuckeye's picture

Brad Wing (another ProKick alum) from LSU did it this past year. He was in trouble with the team, and suspended, but still left early, and I think made the Eagles.

jkrk's picture

From what I understand, he'd have to be in trouble with the team to get suspended at LSU.

4thandinches's picture

Remember, LSU players only need 2/3 vote to overturn Les Miles.

I wasn't born a Buckeye but I became one as fast as I could. 

Denny's picture

Most fans have great disdain for it, but when an Australian does it, and does so effectively, the jeering seems to subside.

Funny how that works.

Taquitos.

Buckeye1996's picture

No punt return yards for a net of 42 yards. I would take that all day, all week!

jbcuky's picture

NFL Net Average Leaders:
2012 - 43.2
2011 - 44.6
2010 - 42.3
2009 - 43.9
College Net Average Leaders:
2012 - 43.5
2011 - 41.4
2010 - 41.3
2009 - 41.9
Um, so yeah i'll take 42 with 0 return yards all day long!

bedheadjc's picture

Meyer used "...and so forth" ? Not sure whether to be worried or not.

Earle's picture

Well, he was talking about a punter.

Just say no to italics abuse.

DannyBeane's picture

If college football were an RPG
Jim Tressel casts spell  (Mind Control) for 100 mana (success)
Urban Meyer is afflicted by (Mind Control)
Urban Meyer says: And so forth
(Mind Control) breaks
(Mind Control) disappears from Urban Meyer

Jugdish's picture

And we're stretching.

Remember to get your wolverine spayed or neutered. TBDBITL

Mirror Lake Jump's picture

This needs to be in caps because it came from Kerry Combs mouth

bedheadjc's picture

Very nice, Earle!
 

cajunbuckeye's picture

I can't wait for a fake punt, just to see what the staff has come up with.

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

BuckeyeinExile's picture

Andy Groom part II ? Groom was always trying to be in on the hits, maybe Johnston can help some scUM returners learn to speak Australian!

throttlefinger's picture

Said Johnston: “It would be fun if I could make a hit. But hopefully the punts are good enough, and we’ve got some great people out there that are going to make some massive tackles.”
Believe me, he'll be able to put someone down. Saw some of his Aussie Football games and he didn't stay outside the pack. Plus, he can run pretty well, so I don't think he'll go deer in headlights if there's anyone running at him.
Think he could be an All-American by his junior year.

BeijingBucks's picture

I feel all Johnston quotes should be, at the very least, in italics so we can know it's time to jack another shrimp on the Barbie accent time!  Bloody Oath!!

 

 

None can love freedom heartily, but good men; the rest love not freedom, but license. ~ John Milton

AJW_16's picture

New drinking game: every time Johnston pins the opponent behind the 20, chug a Fosters.

"Sometimes you eat the bear and sometimes the bear eats you." 

bucks_4_life's picture

I would totally upvote this if I could!!!

The juice is worth the squeeze

RedStorm45's picture

Foster's Tuohy's.  FTFY.

Hovenaut's picture

Ohio State has been pretty blessed over the past decade or so in regards to punters and kickers.

I think Johnston is just scratching the surface here, really eager to see him add to that legacy.

Hate Week runneth over

ChazBuckeye's picture

4 more years of pinning opponents inside their 20...I can deal with that.

Some people think we’re the hunted.I don’t feel that way at all.We’re the hunter.Everybody wants an angry football team.Everybody wants a team on edge and a hungry team.If you’re a hunter,that usually equates to being hungry.

Buckeye06's picture

My only question is that if he can kick it 60+ yards whenever he wants, why not kick it 50 or so out of bounds every time?  No return yards and we get an additional 8-10 yards of field position gained.  I know you can't always control exactly where it goes, but I'd think that would be something else for him to work on

BuckeyeinExile's picture

I'd say give him some time and who knows what he will be able to do. Remember he didn't join up until the summer. He is impressive for a first year. Give him a full off season and I think he is really impressive.

BuckeyeOfTheTiger's picture

keeping it in bounds leaves open the opportunity for muffs and recoveries by our punt team

¯\_(ツ)_/¯

D-Day0043's picture

It's very hard to do that on a long angle. It's easier to do it consistently at a shorter distance at a greater angle.

I am D-Day0043 and I approve this message.

Earle's picture

You're just being obtuse.

Just say no to italics abuse.

D-Day0043's picture

Actually the kick angle is the hypotenuse of the adjacent and opposite angles of the the field. 
:-P

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Earle's picture

Wait, I think you're right! Unless you are trying to be acute...

Just say no to italics abuse.

MN Buckeye's picture

If the sin of the arctan of the cosec . . . mind blown.

4thandinches's picture

I think all of you guys are right

I wasn't born a Buckeye but I became one as fast as I could. 

KingKosar's picture

Cameron Johnston may struggle with driving on the right side of the road – literally

I had the opportunity to live in London for a summer (it was 12 years ago).  Interestingly enough, driving on the opposite side of the road wasn't the most difficult adjustment for me while I was there - crossing the street was.
It sounds silly, I know; such a basic act of crossing the street.  Yet I had to constantly tell myself to look the opposite direction when looking for cars.  It always felt weird to look right when crossing initially, instead of looking left as we do here.

skid21's picture

Shouldn't you look both ways? That's what my mum always told me.

KingKosar's picture

Nice one, Skid.  :)
And yes, my "mum" taught me that, too.  haha

MN Buckeye's picture

Me bum learnt the hard way.

BeijingBucks's picture

Clearly you didn't drive into one of those crazy multiple roundabouts they have... I think the British make them just to test is Americans

 

 

None can love freedom heartily, but good men; the rest love not freedom, but license. ~ John Milton

KingKosar's picture

Those roundabouts were crazy!  I drove up the A1 from London to Yorkshire and had to go around a few of them.  I could never get comfortable darting out into those two-lane monstrosities!  

cinserious's picture

You know if and when Johnston gets the opportunity to pop someone, he's going to make the most of it. Closing in like a homing missile and POW, blows someone up. It'll make Sportscenter's top play of the week.

Life's daily struggle is choosing between saying F--ck-it, or soldiering on with your responsibilities.  

buckz4evr's picture

Another 'spitting my coffee all over my laptop' statement by Meyer 

“He’s a tremendous kid,” Meyer said. “Twenty-one years old, so he’s not that 17-year-old wide-eyed freshman that looks at you like, ‘What planet am I on?’”

ABrown07's picture

Dude has a leg on him, you guys are forgetting that this has only been his first 2 games playing American football and even though the idea is the same from Australian Rules, he still has the nerves associated with playing inside one of the most unnerving stadiums in ALL of football. With time, those nerves will settle and he will add to an already building legacy.

I don't like nice people. I like tough, honest people.

-Woody Hayes

RedStorm45's picture

Unnerving as a home player?

D-Day0043's picture

You ever had 105,000 people staring at you? I haven't. If I did I would probably $hit my pants.

I am D-Day0043 and I approve this message.

BuddhaBuck's picture

"WHAT DO YOU NEED WATER FOR, SUNSHINE? WE'RE STRETCHING! AND YOU'RE A KICKER!"

Do you think Coombs makes an exception for Johnston to get water?

Don't text while driving.

RoyMunson's picture

He reminds me so much of the kicker from The Replacements.

JBuckeye's picture

Me Too!  I keep waiting for him to trot out with a cigarette in his mouth and boom one.

Doc's picture

Hopefully he isn't on the take from gambling debts.  But yeah he looks like that dude.

"Say my name."

thatlillefty's picture

Rolling out on the rugby kick is just one more thing teams will have to prepare for. By week 13, that teamup North is going to have their hands full.
So many weapons!

Dougger's picture

"Austria huh? Let's put another shrimp on the barby!!!"
"Let's not"
I wanna see him rock some returners if they get any yards if Vonn Bell doesn't get to them first.

I like football

MN Buckeye's picture

So he speaks German?

pjtobin's picture

He is fun to watch warm up. This dude can kick a country mile. I hope we don't have to see him to many times this year during actual game time though. 

Bury me in my away jersey, with my buckeye blanket. A diehard who died young. Rip dad.