Seven years ago, Ohio State found itself scrambling to find its punter of the future, looking to replace three-year starter Ben Buchanan.
The Buckeyes thought they had the situation settled for more than six months, with a commitment on the books from Orlando’s Johnny Townsend from June 2012 through February 2013.
Townsend took an official visit to Columbus in January, but three weeks later on National Signing Day, the nation’s No. 2-ranked punter was in Will Muschamp’s back pocket in Gainesville.
A plan was put in place to have kicker Drew Basil take on punting duties. That idea was scratched when then-special teams coordinator Kerry Coombs pulled a punter out of his own back pocket in the 25th hour, convincing Cameron Johnston to leave Australia for a career in Columbus.
It was a plan born out of desperation. Johnston was brought in by Coombs on a combination of YouTube highlights, film dissection and word-of-mouth by Nathan Chapman, the man who trained Johnston at Prokick Australia – a punter and kicker academy in Melbourne that puts its athletes through 12-month training and lays claim to 75 alumni with college scholarships or professional kicking contracts, 17 All-American awards and five Ray Guy award winners, according to its website.
The Buckeyes brought in a punter from down under who could already legally drink a beer in the States, and it worked to near-perfection. Johnston, 21 years old when he first got to Ohio State, instantly gained notoriety in fall camp for his booming leg and became a four-year starter. He earned second-team freshman All-American honors, multiple All-Big Ten selections and some bling to boot as a national champion, and he's now the punter for the NFL's Philadelphia Eagles.
Now, seven years later, Ohio State is hoping for deja vu all over again. Just insert Matt Barnes for Coombs and the 23-year-old Jesse Mirco for Johnston.
Another Australian native trained by Chapman, Mirco grabbed Ohio State’s interest when Chapman recommended him to Barnes. After Chapman and John Smith, another trainer at Prokick Australia, connected Barnes and Mirco, the two of them hit it off. They built a relationship that eventually culminated in a video call roughly two weeks ago between Mirco and the Buckeyes.
It was Mirco’s first chance to “meet” Ryan Day, and Mirco had what he told Eleven Warriors was “an amazing experience” during that meeting with Day, Barnes and other members of Ohio State’s coaching staff. It was his first taste of what the future is going to hold, as the video call led to a scholarship offer from Day and Co., and Mirco soon became the Buckeyes’ 18th mate in their heralded 2021 class.
“Everyone was so welcoming, and I can’t wait to continue to build those relationships when I get over there,” Mirco said. “I didn’t have to think twice about committing to the best school in the country. I’m super excited to be a Buckeye and be a part of the best college football program in the world.”
Unlike the last-minute recruitment of Johnston, the Buckeyes had plenty of time to gradually recruit Mirco, as they are still a year away from needing to replace Drue Chrisman. Many, like us, figured the plan was to groom in-state walk-on Michael O’Shaughnessy, rated as a five-star punter by ChrisSailerKicking.com, for the role.
Perhaps that still winds up being the case, but Mirco’s potential is off the charts. Barnes and the Buckeyes' belief in Mirco is evidenced by giving him a full-ride offer to join the nation’s top-ranked recruiting class. (A grayshirt for Mirco is probably not in the cards, or at least the idea has not been broached by the coaches.)
“I believe Coach Barnes and the staff love that I bring a lot of variety to the table. I can kick both traditional spiral or Australian punts from the pocket, as well as having the ability to roll out both ways.”– Ohio State punter commit Jesse Mirco
The reason for the Buckeyes’ confidence? Well, Chapman once told CNN that a college program getting a punter or kicker from his academy was “like ordering a pizza. You tell us what you want, and we will go get it.”
Must’ve been a supreme pizza the Buckeyes ordered.
“I believe Coach Barnes and the staff love that I bring a lot of variety to the table,” Mirco said. “I can kick both traditional spiral or Australian punts from the pocket, as well as having the ability to roll out both ways. I believe my ability to land the ball accurately and as closely to the 1-yard line is a strength of mine as well, as all Aussie punters that have made the transition into college football (have that skill).”
We always talk about how Ohio State is searching for versatility in its recruits, and apparently that’s a trait it seeks out in its punters, too.
What’s most noteworthy about that skillset is that just four months ago, according to Land-Grant Holy Land’s Tia Johnston, Mirco had no idea how to properly punt a ball American-style. Mirco was plenty adept at Australian rules football, but in four short months, he adjusted with help from his two trainers.
“I’ve grown enormously in a short time so far with the help of Nathan Chapman,” Mirco said. “Coach Chapman has a freakish ability to watch you punt and then make the smallest of adjustments to help you improve significantly. He’s the reason I’ve been able to improve in such a short time and continue to improve before I move over.
“Nathan Chapman and John Smith have really helped me become confident in my ability, and with that I feel I can have an immediate impact helping us win games.”
Mirco has plenty of time to get acquainted even further with Ohio State’s program, hone his punting skills and come to campus ready to compete with O’Shaughnessy for the starting job. And he’ll have a couple of guys to lean on – one he knows very well; the other he soon hopes to.
BOOM! Aussie Aussie Aussie, Oi Oi Oi. Welcome to the brotherhood https://t.co/7lTnfIcao9— Drue Chrisman (@DChrisman91) May 6, 2020
“I’ve known Cam for a few months now and have been able to pick his brain as much as possible,” Mirco said. “Cam has been so friendly and helpful with preparing me for everything – from punting in games to working hard in the weight room and classroom. He has told me to make sure I enjoy it, and it will be the best time of my life. I haven’t had too much to do with Drue as of yet, but he was super supportive on Twitter once I made my announcement, welcoming me to the Brotherhood so I also can’t thank him enough for that.
“Cam is also out of ProKick Australia and obviously had great success at OSU, winning a national championship. Drue has clearly followed on from Cam, being one of college football's best punters, winning numerous Big Ten Championships. So, for me, I’m looking to learn off what they have both been able to do in bringing success to the Buckeyes and continue that success going forward.”