When an increasing number of U.S. college football coaches need a punter, they’re turning to an unlikely country for help. An Australian academy is consistently filling those requests with a group of gifted athletes who’ve never played the sport.
CGTN’s Greg Navarro explains.
What looks like a football training session on a U.S. college campus certainly doesn’t sound like one. This practice is taking place about 15,000 kilometres away in a Melbourne suburb.
And the guys under the pads have never actually played an official U.S. football game.
“I think the first time I was exposed to it was at my nana’s house. I watched a game, I think the New York Giants were playing, didn’t really understand it then,”said former Australian rules football player Ben Griffiths.
Most of these athletes have grown up playing Australian Rules Football or AFL, a fast-paced game that includes a lot of kicking.
After a successful AFL career, Nathan Chapman tried to transfer his kicking skills to the NFL. He came home without a contract but the experience gave him an idea.
“I’d made plenty of contacts in my time in the U.S. and really called on those networks and suggested hey listen, if I teach other guys here and there is plenty of guys here who can kick, if I teach them and get them to a level that you will want to see them, will you pick the phone up and take a call, and they said yes and I thought well let’s go and that’s it,” said Chapman.
13 years later, Chapman’s idea, Prokick Australia, has an astounding 95 percent success rate of placing Australian punters with U.S. college teams on full scholarships.
And three of his graduates are punters in the NFL, including rookie Michael Dickson with the Seattle Seahawks. Dickson recently was named NFC Special Teams Player Of The Month for November.
“The college games now have brought where the natural part of our game is which is the Aussie Rules drop punt, they’ve brought that into the college system. We’ve got a lot of our guys asked to do what we do naturally,” said Chapman.
To put this into perspective, the odds of making it to the NFL are estimated to be about 1 in more than 40,000 and that’s for people who grew up playing the sport.
Yet Georgina Hayes’ son Blake, also a Prokick graduate, is the starting punter for the University of Illinois.
“Our boys grew up kicking a football, the Americans grew up throwing a baseball. I’m still amazed this is what he wants to do and this is what he is doing and he is doing it well,” she said.
After more than eight seasons with the Richmond Tigers, 27-year old Griffiths decided to try a new sport.
“The opportunity that comes with being able to play in college and being able to study at the same time was really really a big draw card,” he said.
Griffiths plans to attend the University of Southern California on a full athletic scholarship.
“Really this is an educational program under the ruse of kicking a football. The football gets the publicity, why we do it is we want guys educated,” said Chapman.
And the reputation of Chapman’s program means that most U.S. college football coaches are now willing to offer scholarships to his athletes without making the trip to actually see them kick in person.