When the National Championship game kicks off Monday night in Indianapolis, there will be two very interested and proud observers from 9,000 miles away. Nathan Chapman and John Smith, the co-founders of ProKick Australia, will watch one of their former entrants punt for the No.1 Alabama.
This is nothing new or rare. In fact, it is quite common.
James Burnip of Alabama is currently one of 56 Australian Bettors on FBS who have been trained at ProKick Australia. The academy has grown to the point of becoming a staple of the college football landscape, and players who never played American football before entering college are influencing programs (and leagues) through the country.
Australian punters in college football 2021
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That’s exactly what Chapman envisioned when he launched it in 2007, he just didn’t think it would take 15 years for ProKick to become what it is.
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“Part of what we did 10 or 15 years ago was to change the dynamics of the kick itself and change the respect that bettors are given within a team and by coaches,” said Chapman at Sporting News. “We wanted to let them know that if you have a good one, you like them because they keep you out of trouble.”
Many Chapman’s products have helped many teams out of the woods.
Naturally, the start of an academy that would train athletes for a sport played halfway around the world was slow. When ProKick was in its infancy, hardly anyone would answer Chapman’s calls. This also included in Australia.
“It was pretty tough, wasn’t it? We had to sell initially: ‘Hey, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, nice to meet you. We want to send your son to America to graduate and go to the university.’ It’s pretty easy for them to say, ‘Alright, no worries, that sounds good. How long have you been doing this?’ ” Chapman told SN. ‘Have been doing it.’ So it was an interesting challenge at the start to involve families. “
He has found himself in similar situations with coaches, although he has had some early relationships since his tries with the Packers and Bears following his professional career in Australian football.
“Unlike an American coach, it was’ Hey, Coach, thanks for picking up the phone. You have no idea who I am. I’m starting a business in Australia to teach guys how to kick. “If I teach them to kick, and you give them a scholarship? Oh, by the way, you can’t see it and they won’t come visit me. You just have to take my word for it.”
Eventually, they took him at his word and Chapman had some early takers. Jordan Berry was one of three to enter in 2007 at the age of 16, moved to eastern Kentucky at age 18, and has since played in the NFL with the Steelers and Vikings.
So now Chapman had proof of concept that what he was doing worked, and ProKick was well on the way to being what it is today.
Athletes typically go through a 12-18 month training program that covers everything from learning the rules of the game, playing with football equipment for the first time, and understanding the optimal way to strike. an American football that maximizes hanging length and time. Bettors train three or four times a week in a park and enjoy the no-frills approach favored by Chapman and Smith the most.
Almost every bettor who goes through ProKick has some experience with Aussie football, where the primary way to get the ball to move on the pitch is to pass it to your teammate. This is why Australian bettors tend to take a few steps to the side before kicking, unlike American bettors, who take a step or two forward before the kick.
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It’s a skill learned from a young age in Australia that Oklahoma State’s Tom Hutton never thought he could show to the next level.
“If you can’t kick in Australian football, you can’t play the game. So in order to pass and score you have to be able to kick with the punters,” Hutton told SN. “The way Americans grow up throwing the soccer ball, we grow up from the age of 2, trying to kick it out. It’s just a natural Australian skill to be able to kick a soccer ball.”
At 31, Hutton has just finished his junior season with Mike Gundy’s team. After working full time at a stationery store and being financially secure, Hutton, who had always been athletic, decided to give ProKick a chance. After training for over a year, he finally came to Stillwater at the age of 29.
Being an older freshman and devoting time to training and honing their craft is not a rarity for Australian punters. Tory Taylor from Iowa, James Smith from Cincinnati, Hutton, and Adam Korsak from Rutgers all arrived in the United States and were freshmen around age 21 or 22. It might not seem like much, but those extra few years seem to make all the difference.
“It’s a professional sport with the level of expectations. Take the money out of it. It’s professional sport – there are people who play it, there are fans who go crazy and if they don’t. ‘don’t like what you do, they send you stuff on social media, “Chapman said.” A 17 or 18 year old who had a great day kicking a soccer ball for a kicking coach who Said you have to take this guy, don’t worry about the whole holistic approach – he’s not ready. It will collapse if it’s too big under pressure. “
Turns out Chapman’s guys don’t crumble under pressure. Since 2013, six Ray Guy Award winners have trained at ProKick, in addition to several punters from all conferences and across the United States.
Mike Gundy saw this firsthand when Oklahoma State was playing in Texas and the Longhorns had Australia’s Michael Dickson, now with the Seahawks. Dickson performed well against Oklahoma State and from there it’s become a classic case where you don’t know what you want until you don’t have it.
This is how Hutton ended up in Stillwater.
‘[Coach] Gundy told our special teams coach at the time that we needed an Australian kicker and then that was around when I started kicking with ProKick, ”Hutton said. “I think I was one of the only left-handed people there and I was also the only guy who was over 18 or 19. They wanted someone a little more mature so they wouldn’t hurt of the country easily. “
New Notre Dame special teams coach Brian Mason has seen the value of maturity firsthand, as he has experience with Australian punters dating back to previous stops at Cincinnati and Ohio State.
Older bettors, Mason says, make him more confident in his unit whenever they’re on the field.
“Most of the Australians who come in are 20, 21. Some are even older with rare exceptions. So now you get someone who has, in many cases, played professional Aussie football before, that is already. a little more mature and handled a lot of different situations, ”he said. “So even when they’re in first grade, you’re a little more comfortable with them going out and knowing that they can handle the pressure and anxiety of different situations.”
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The pressure is not always external either.
In the case of Korsak, one of three finalists for this year’s Ray Guy Award, he challenged himself to be successful right away.
“I’ve placed high expectations on myself and I think it’s a healthy thing because it comes down to that thing of never being satisfied,” Korsak said.
Korsak, like many of his fellow ProKickers, has been hugely successful. He has been an All-American this year and has been honored three times by the All-Big Ten. He’s also one of the most popular figures on the team, which hasn’t always been the case with punters. Iowa special teams coach LeVar Woods has said Taylor is a rock star in Iowa City.
“Just knowing him, the type of person he is and the type of teammate is what makes him so rewarding because he’s a great person,” said Woods. “To see the way our fans embraced it, the way people go completely crazy. When they call the starting XI and they announce Tory Taylor, the place goes crazy.
Taylor admits he drowned him at first, but eventually it became impossible to ignore him.
“The only thing I’m good at is really focusing and focusing on the 10 seconds or so that I’m there,” he said. “I’m not going to lie. It is quite special. It took me a while to really imbibe it because I try to ignore most of other noises, but it’s pretty hard not to notice it.
The novelty (and productivity) of Australian punters sparked the growth of ProKick which relied primarily on word of mouth recommendations from academy players.
Coaches copy what works and teams want all the benefits they can get. It seems, at least for now, that Australian punters are the next advantage.
“Tory is one of the best players on our football team, regardless of position,” said Woods, whose Iowa team kicked 82 times, tied for second in the country. “When you want to win a game, you put the best players in the game and Tory is one of our best players. “
And as perceptions change about task forces and their importance and this becomes more and more emphasized, Chapman has created a fellowship of hundreds of people in a country 9,000 miles away.
“You’re changing the game of college football with just the success we’ve had in terms of portraying Ray Guy or the whole conference and now also filtering into the NFL,” said James Smith, the Cincinnati All-American. 2018, which hopes to make an NFL roster in 2022. “Being a part of this process that has changed the way the punt is viewed in college football is truly miraculous. And it’s a privilege to be a part of it.
Australian Ray Guy Award Winners