When the national championship game begins Monday night from 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 see one of their former entrants clear for No. 1 Alabama.
This is nothing new or weird. In fact, it is quite common.
James Burnip from Alabama is currently one of 56 Australian punters on FBS who were trained at ProKick Australia. The academy has grown to the point where it is a vital piece of the college football landscape, and players who have never played a little football before entering college are influencing programs (and championships) across the globe. country.
Australian kickers in college football 2021
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That’s just what Chapman envisioned when he started in 2007, he just didn’t think it would take 15 years for ProKick to become what it is.
“Part of what we did 10 or 15 years ago was set out to change the dynamics of punts and change the respect that kickers are given within a team and by coaches,” Chapman told Sporting News. “We wanted them to know that if you have a good one, you love them, because they get you out of a tight spot.”
Many of Chapman’s products have gotten many teams out of a lot of trouble.
Understandably, it was a slow start to launch an academy that would train athletes for a sport that is played on the other side of the world. When ProKick was in its infancy, almost no one answered Chapman’s calls. That included in Australia, too.
“It was quite difficult, wasn’t it? We had to initially sell: ‘Hello Mr. and Mrs. Smith, nice to meet you. We want to send your son to America for a college degree and clearance.” It’s easy enough for them to say, ‘Great, don’t worry, it sounds good. How long have you been doing it? ” Chapman told SN. “So we had to say to them, ‘Well, you’re actually doing it for the first time. So it was an interesting challenge at first to get the families to come together.”
He ran into similar situations with coaches, although he had some early connections from his time in tryouts with the Packers and Bears after his professional career in Australian football.
“On the contrary, on the other side of an American coach, it was’ Hey, coach, thanks for answering the phone. You have no idea who I am. I’m starting a business in Australia teaching boys to kick. kick, how about you give them a scholarship? Oh by the way, you can’t see it and they won’t come to visit you. You just have to take my word for it. ‘”
Eventually, they took his word for it and Chapman got some takers early. Jordan Berry was one of three entered in 2007 at age 16, left eastern Kentucky at 18, and has been punting in the NFL with the Steelers and Vikings ever since.
Now, Chapman had a proof of concept that what he was doing worked, and ProKick was on its way to becoming what it is today.
Athletes typically go through a 12 to 18-month training program that addresses everything from learning the rules of the game, playing football for the first time, and understanding the optimal way to kick a football that maximizes length. and the suspension time. Punters train three or four times a week in a park, and most appreciate the straightforward approach preferred by Chapman and Smith.
Almost all bettors who come across ProKick have a background in Australian football, where the main way to move the ball across the field is to kick it towards your teammate. This is why Australian punters tend to take a few steps by running to the side before kicking, unlike American punters, who take a step or two forward before kicking.
It’s a skill acquired at a young age in Australia that Oklahoma State’s Tom Hutton never thought he could show off at the next level.
“If you can’t punt in Aussie football, you can’t play the game. So in order to pass and score, you have to be able to punt with end-to-end punts,” Hutton told SN. “The way Americans grow up throwing the ball, we grow up from 2 years old, trying to kick to get it out. It’s just a natural Australian ability to be able to kick a ball.”
At age 31, Hutton just finished his junior season with Mike Gundy’s team. After working full-time at a paper mill and having financial security, Hutton, who had always been athletic, decided to give ProKick a shot. After training for over a year, he finally came to Stillwater at age 29.
Being an older freshman student and spending time training and honing your craft is not a rarity for Australian gamblers. Tory Taylor from Iowa, James Smith from Cincinnati, Hutton, and Adam Korsak from Rutgers came to the United States and were freshmen when they were around 21 or 22 years old. It may not sound like much, but those few extra years seem to make a difference.
“This is a professional sport with the level of expectations. Take away the money. It is a professional sport: there are people who bet on it, there are fans who go crazy and if they don’t like what you do, they send you things.” social media, “Chapman said.” A 17 or 18 year old who has had a good day kicking a soccer ball for a kicking coach who has said you have to accept this guy, without worrying about the overall holistic approach, not ready. It will collapse if it’s too big under pressure. “
Turns out, the Chapman guys don’t break down under pressure. Since 2013, six Ray Guy award winners have trained at ProKick, in addition to several All-Conference and All-American punters.
Mike Gundy saw that firsthand when Oklahoma State was playing Texas and the Longhorns had Australian Michael Dickson, now with the Seahawks. Dickson performed well against Oklahoma State and from there it became a classic case that 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 to get an Australian punt and it turned out that was around the time that I started to punt with ProKick, “Hutton said. “I think he was one of the only left-handers there and he was also the only kid who was over 18 or 19 years old. They wanted someone who was a little more mature so they wouldn’t get homesick easily. “
Notre Dame’s new special teams coach Brian Mason has seen the value of maturity firsthand as he has experience with Australian gamblers dating back to previous stops at Cincinnati and Ohio State.
Mason says older kickers give him more confidence in his unit every time they’re on the field.
“Most of the Australians who come here are between 20 and 21 years old. Some are even older in rare exceptions. So now you have someone who, in many cases, has already played professional Australian football, is already a little more mature and has handled many different situations, “he said. “So even when they are freshmen, you feel a little more comfortable with them hanging out and knowing that they can handle the pressure and anxiety of different situations.”
Pressure is not always external either.
In the case of Korsak, one of the three finalists for this year’s Ray Guy Award, he challenged himself to succeed immediately.
“I put high expectations on myself and I think that’s a healthy thing because it goes back to that never-satisfied thing,” Korsak said.
Korsak, like many of his ProKick compatriots, has been extremely successful. He was an All-American this year and has been honored three times in the All-Big Ten. He’s also one of the most popular figures on the team, which hasn’t always been the case among punters. Iowa special teams coach LeVar Woods says Taylor is a rock star in Iowa City.
“Just knowing him and the type of person he is and the type of teammate he is, that’s what makes him so rewarding because he’s such a great person,” Woods said. “Seeing the way our fans have embraced it, the way people go crazy. When they announce the starting lineup and announce Tory Taylor, the place goes crazy. “
Taylor admits that he drowned him out at first, but eventually he became impossible to ignore.
“The only thing I’m good at is really slowing down and focusing on the 10 seconds or so that I’m out there,” he said. “I am not going to lie. It is quite special. It took me a while to absorb it because I try to ignore most of the noise from others, but it’s kind of hard not to notice. “
The novelty (and productivity) of Australian bettors sparked the growth of ProKick, which was based primarily on word-of-mouth recommendations from players who had left the academy.
Coaches copy what works and teams want every advantage they can get. It seems that, for the moment at least, Australian gamblers may be the next advantage.
“Tory is one of the best players on our soccer team, regardless of his position,” says Woods, whose Iowa team punted 82 times, tied for second in the nation. “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 about special teams and their importance change and become increasingly emphasized, Chapman has created a brotherhood of hundreds deep within a country 9,000 miles away.
“You’re changing the game of college football with the success we’ve had in terms of Ray Guy or representing all the conferences and now also leaking into the NFL,” said 2018 Cincinnati All-American James Smith, who hopes to make an NFL roster in 2022. “Being part of that process that changed the way punts are viewed in college football, it’s really miraculous. And it is a privilege to be part of that. “
Australian Ray Guy Award Winners