The Most Important Play in Football is Alive and Well at Ohio State

By Kyle Rowland on October 2, 2013 at 9:15a

The lifestyle, food choices and climate might be different. But the one constant for Cameron Johnston is punting. Whether he’s in Australia or Ohio Stadium, the technique and objective remain the same.

Since Johnston became a member of the Ohio State football team in June, he’s become a media sensation. The Australian accent, red hair and booming punts have a way of garnering attention. Urban Meyer, Kerry Coombs and Buckeye Nation have also taken a liking to the punter from Down Under.

During the non-conference schedule, Johnston punted 12 times and gave up zero return yards. It looked like that streak would grow to five games, until Wisconsin returned the last of Johnston’s six punts on Saturday night. Jared Abbrederis gained all of three yards.

Punters often go unnoticed, especially in games with large margins of victory. That was the case during Ohio State’s first four games. But when he was finally called upon to be a factor in a close game, Johnston delivered with pinpoint accuracy, mimicking Phil Mickelson with a sand wedge.

“The way the quarterback throws the ball is the way we pass the ball [with our feet] back home,” Johnston said. “You can be pretty accurate with where you want it to land.”

Johnston punted six times. Each boot resulted in Wisconsin starting its drive inside the 20-yard line. Five began inside the 10. The Badgers scored 10 points on the ensuing drives following the poor field position.

The 21-year-old freshman was named the Big Ten’s special teams player of the week for his efforts. No punt was bigger – or longer – than his final strike of the night. It traveled 55 yards and forced Wisconsin to travel 90 yards in 1:29 to tie the game. The Badgers ended up 84 yards shy of the end zone.

Johnston’s average was less than 40 yards per punt, but distance is not the goal.

“If we want to ooh and aah, we can do that any time,” Coombs said. “At the same time, teams that do that have returns that are extreme. We want to cover kicks. We want to split the field and make sure other teams don’t return the ball.”

It took one close game for Johnston to prove his worth. With another ranked opponent on tap, he could again be a valuable weapon at Northwestern, and a worthy gamble by the Buckeyes.

They had no punter after being spurned by one-time commit Johnny Townsend on National Signing Day. Coombs said they wanted to get the best, and the search took them halfway around the world. Johnston foresaw a college career in the United States, but Ohio may as well have been a village in the middle of the Sahara. Given 50 chances, Johnston could have pointed out the Buckeye State, though he may have exhausted his half a hundred guesses.

“As you would expect from someone coming in from not only a small school but a foreign environment, to come into this environment and perform is going to take a little bit of time,” Coombs said. “Without the benefit of spring ball, I think his development is extraordinary.”

It was Coombs who very nearly found himself in a foreign country – and on an 18-hour flight. A prospect from ProKick Austrailia sent Ohio State punting tapes, and the content seemed unbelievable. The subject had a leg resembling Paul Bunyan’s. All that was missing was Babe the Blue Ox.

Booming punts played on a loop and left the Buckeyes’ coaching staff impressed. But they wanted to see what Johnston could do when the pressure rose.

“I had to see him against the rush,” Coombs said. “Next thing I know they’re sending me video of guys in helmets and shoulder pads and these other jokers running at him. It’s still not the same, but at least it showed you something.”

The trip was nixed when Ohio State realized they couldn’t watch Johnston live. That wasn’t the end of the story, though. More aptly, it was the beginning. The Buckeyes offered a scholarship with Johnston happily accepting. He’s one of dozens of ProKick’s alumni that have played for Division I schools.

Almost four months later, Johnston has become one of the guys. He’s popular among teammates for his outgoing personality and endless search for a good time. That voice also seems to attract attention, whether it’s coeds who marvel over his voice or teammates who can’t understand him.

“No one makes fun of him, but clearly, the way he talks is funny,” wide receiver Philly Brown said.

Even LeBron James gave notice to Johnston. He stood near Johnston’s practice net for the entirety of the first half. Finally, Johnston, all 5-foot-11 of him, strode over to talk to James. Chances are Aussie Rules Football wasn’t part of the conversation. 

“We had a chat on the sideline,” Johnston said. “Back home, you always watched him on TV. To actually have him there was a great experience. A few years ago, playing back home, you’d never think you’d meet someone like that.”

He probably didn’t ever imagine being graded out so sternly either. Even after being honored by the Big Ten and ranking in the top 20 of the nation in net punting and contributing to a top 20 punt return defense unit, Johnston received a harsh below average grade. Meyer said he was a C-. Forget the “A” game against Wisconsin.

“His average hang time was just under four seconds, which is completely unacceptable,” Meyer said. “I’m seeing a little more pep in his step. The players love him, so I’m hoping we see a great deal of confidence that he can get the job done.”

It’s all gravy for Johnston. He’s 21, seeing the world and playing a game he’s fallen in love with. Now, he has a team – a brotherhood, as the players call it. Some tough love from a coach – or constructive criticism – isn’t going to deter him.

“Being here at Ohio State, you get opportunities you don’t get pretty much anywhere else in the world,” Johnston said.

Plus, the morale is always good when you perform like a veteran in front of 105,000 fans in the Horseshoe.

Said Brown: “He’s well-respected on this team by the way he punts the ball.”


Comments Show All Comments

Boxley's picture

It would be easy to give him credit for being a big part of the reason we were able to hold off Wisconsin. It had to kill them to repeatedly start inside of their own ten yard line on five occasions, clearly a 60% reduction in points scored opportunity, and an 80% reduction in TD's scored. Pretty damn good, and a major influence on the game.

"...the man who really counts in the world is the doer, not the mere critic-the man who actually does the work, even if roughly and imperfectly, not the man who only talks or writes about how it ought to be done." President T. Roosevelt

mmontell's picture

He has one job and he's done that job almost to the point of perfection. 3 return yards is a pretty amazing stat. He has to be Tressel's favorite player on the Buckeyes.


Hovenaut's picture

I see how Urban can place emphasis on a better hang time, but C-?

Think we'd be hard pressed to find another punter at the FBS level who has only allowed three return yards. The coverage team gets credit too, but Johnston has been very effective.

I might have muttered an "Oi" on that last boot....glad things worked out the way they did.

Jabba the Hoke's picture

It would be awesome to get 105,000 yelling "oy, oy, oy" every time he kicked the ball.

doodah_man's picture

I am hoping that members of the team are "surrounding" Cam with some brotherly love. It's tough to be that far away from home. But then I remember, this is the same team that stepped up for Dom Tiberi. This team is a class act. 
One thing I have to get over is occasionally praying for a 3 and out so I can see this guy's talent.

Jim "DooDah" Day

"If I were giving a young man advice as to how he might succeed in life, I would say to him, pick out a good father and mother, and begin life in Ohio.” --Wilbur Wright, 1910

sharks's picture

That Townsend situation couldn't have worked out better for us

A man got to have a code...

Seth4Bucks's picture

You have to wonder if Townsend has any regrets.

rdubs's picture

Florida's offense is pretty pathetic, so while he doesn't appear to be the top punter right now, he'll get lots of chances in the future.

Squirrel Master's picture

Not only is he proud to be a buckeye, he is proud to be able to play this game. The kid is living a dream.
and true he is a bit low on his kicks and could use more hangtime, but I will take a kicker who knows how to place a ball over one who just kicks it high and doesn't know where it will come down. I also like how he is quick to get the ball out. The two worst things that can happen is overkicking your coverage and getting it blocked. I see Cam doing very well to avoid both!

I saw a UFO told me to have a goodyear!

One Bad Buckeye's picture

Don't forget, we haven't really been backed up deep in our own territory too much this season, I don't think we've really seen him showcase his leg quite yet.  

"I'm One Bad Buckeye, and I approve this message."

Squirrel Master's picture

very true but I still would prefer it if he was still aiming on those punts than just trying to kick as hard as he can. Even if he has the whole field to kick as far as he can, he could still outkick his coverage and that would be worst than not kicking it that far.
I always thought with punting that you don't want to get blocked and you don't want to let a big return for a TD. Even if he averages only 36 yards a punt, if he doesn't give up a big return and doesn't get blocked, I think that would be better than a punter who averages 45 but allows those things to happen.
I just think yardage and hangtime are overrated compared to aim and limiting the big plays.

I saw a UFO told me to have a goodyear!

Wesleyburgess1's picture

This kid will play on Sundays for sure. I still want to see him punt the ball on a trick play. I'm just really exited about this whole team really. Looks like the next 4 or 5 years are going to be great. I could name about 20 players that I am really really looking forward to see playing in the coming years. Johnston is just one of those names. GO BUCKEYES! O-H

slippy's picture

The kick-pass screen is definitely coming...right?

holtzy's picture

Johnston you have a gift.  Keep working hard and you might be doing it for a living some day.

throttlefinger's picture

Don't think it's overhyping to say that if his game keeps improving, he should be an All-American by his junior year. 

Larryp713's picture

I love players with great personalities, and this kid seems to be that. I agree with Montell... Jim Tressel would highly approve of Cam. 3 return yards in 5 games is ridiculous.



throttlefinger's picture

3 yards is amazing. I like that Coombs and Urban are pushing him but "C-"? Hang time may need some work but the results are there.
Never thought I'd get excited when a punter comes on the field...but this kid has leg and accuracy to change a game. 

Jonnferrell's picture

I hope he's practicing a drop kick.  That would be great fun.

"I miss Brady Hoke."

BuckeyeinSavannah's picture

Is anyone else slightly worried that he might be a one and done? He's 21, he could bolt after this year.

cronimi's picture

One and done?? No, I think there's little risk of that. While he may not stick around for 4 years if the NFL comes calling, I doubt there will be so much clamoring for a punter to draw him away from Cbus after this season.

EnlistedBuckeye's picture

Jim Tressel approves this message

nm_buck's picture

I'd like to see him tuck and run sometime.... he's supposed to have some wheels.

"The future is bright at Ohio State."  - Urban Meyer 1/1/15

Earle's picture

Gotta believe they're just waiting for the right moment...

Have you tried Not Your Father's Root Beer?  It tastes just like the real thing, but it packs a punch (5.9%ABV).  It's a little sweet for me though.  Two is my limit.

IBleedSandG's picture

I just refreshed 11W, say the title of this post and let out a little chuckle.
The last punt of the game vs. Whisky was a thing of beauty. Hopefully we see more punts like it in the near future while keeping the number of punts to a minimum.


hetuck's picture

While it was a great punt, I liked the first five better because they meant OSU at least got close to scoring territory. 

Winning is a habit. Unfortunately, so is losing.

Vince Lombardi

RedStorm45's picture

I remember being a bit...underwhelmed by his first few punts after hearing all the hype.  I quickly realized the plan by the special teams - not to outkick the coverage.  The 42-44 yard punts with no returns are great and limits any opportunities for the opposing team to take it to the house, which could happen on 50+ yard punts.

hit_the_couch's picture

Hope he doesn't win the Ray Guy then bolt for the NFL after this year. He can win the Guy just don't leave.

And then I told her...i'm no weatherman, but tonight's forecast is calling for several inches!

MN Buckeye's picture

I think Urban graded him low just to keep him grounded and give him room to grow. He has been a great surprise, but he still has lots of adjusting before he is fully settled in.

GoBucks713's picture

I think the C- is just because of the low hang time. Urbz has to be happy with the end result though. After hearing so much about this kid, I'm waiting for him to boom a 55 yarder with 5 seconds of hang time to let the coverage team get down field and really pin the other team deep. Something tells me that we will be seeing this really soon as CJ is getting more and more comfortable in the American Football setting.

-The Aristocrats!

Firedup's picture

Avg Start position
Wisconson own 17yd    OSU own 41
PRetty easy to score points only going 60 yards verse 80

"Making the Great State of Ohio Proud!" UFM

UrbanBuckeye's picture

No question that Johnston was a difference maker against Wisconsin. Can't wait to have him for three more seasons!

Vonn Bell once asked me in class if he could borrow my pencil and he never gave it back. Ain't even mad.

Arkansas Buckeye's picture

If you ever get the chance to see Aussie Rules Football, its pretty fun.  Saw one of the play-in games for their Superbowl (Grand Final) last month. In order to play that game, you do have to be able to motor in contact traffic.  It is not at all uncommon to kick the ball while running in traffic.  So yeah, he may have some skills that can make some nice trick plays.

"It seemed like a good idea at the time."