When the national championship game begins Monday night from Indianapolis, there will be two very interested and proud observers 9,000 miles away. Nathan Chapman and John Smith, the co-founders of ProKick Australia, will be watching one of their former entrants clear for No. 1 Alabama.
This is nothing new or unusual. 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 role in football before entering college are influencing programs (and championships) around. the country.
Australian gamblers in college football 2021
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That’s exactly what Chapman envisioned when he started 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 set out to change the dynamic of kicking and change the respect given to punters 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 trouble.”
Many of Chapman’s products have gotten many teams out of a lot of trouble.
Understandably, it was a slow start to get an academy off the ground that would train athletes for a sport played on the other side of the world. When ProKick was in its infancy, almost no one accepted Chapman’s calls. That is also included in Australia.
“It was quite difficult, right? At first we had to sell: ‘Hey Mr. and Mrs. Smith, nice to meet you. We want to send your son to America to graduate from college. ‘ 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. You are doing it. So at first it was an interesting challenge to get the families to bond. “
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.
“The reverse of 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 teaching the boys to kick. If you teach them to kick, how about Do you give them a scholarship? Oh, by the way, you can’t see him and they won’t come to visit him. You just have to take my word for it. ‘
Eventually, they took his word for it and Chapman landed some early buyers. Jordan Berry was one of three entered in 2007 at age 16, went to Eastern Kentucky at 18 and has been taking off in the NFL with the Steelers and Vikings ever since.
So 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 deals with everything from learning the rules of the game, playing on the football team for the first time, and understanding the optimal way to kick a football that maximizes length. and the suspension time. Punters train three to four times a week in a park, and most appreciate the easy approach that Chapman and Smith prefer.
Almost all bettors who go through ProKick have a background in Australian rules 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 to the side before kicking it, as opposed to American punters, who take a step or two forward before the kick.
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It’s a skill acquired at a young age in Australia and one that Oklahoma State’s Tom Hutton never thought he could show off at the next level.
“If you can’t punt in Australian football, you can’t play. So in order to pass and score, you have to be able to punt with punts from end to end,” Hutton told SN. “The way Americans grow up throwing the ball, we grow up from 2 years old, trying to clear to get it out. It’s a natural ability for Australians to be able to clear 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 and spending time training and honing your craft is not a rarity for Australian gamblers. Tory Taylor from Iowa, James Smith from Cincinnati, Adam Korsak from Hutton, and Rutgers came to America and were freshmen when they were around 21 or 22. 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. Get the money out of it. It’s a professional sport: there are people who gamble, there are fans who go crazy and if they don’t like what you do, they send you things on 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 should take this guy, not concerned with the overall holistic approach, he is not ready. He will collapse if he is 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 conference punters and 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 where you don’t know what you want until you have it.
This is how Hutton ended up in Stillwater.
‘[Coach] Gundy told our special teams coach at the time that we had to get an Australian punter and that happened the moment I started punting with ProKick, ”Hutton said. “I think I was one of the only lefties there and I 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 punters dating back to previous stops at Cincinnati and Ohio State.
Older punters, Mason says, give him more confidence in his unit every time they’re on the field.
“Most of the Australians who come here are 20, 21 years old. Some are even older, in rare exceptions. So now you meet someone who, in many cases, has already played professional Australian rules football, already a little more They’re mature and have handled a lot of different situations, “he said.” So even when they’re a freshman, you feel a little more comfortable with them coming 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 the three finalists for this year’s Ray Guy award, he challenged himself to be successful immediately.
“I set high expectations for 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. This year he was an All-American and has been awarded three times with the All-Big Ten. He’s also one of the most popular figures on the team, which hasn’t always been the case for 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 is what makes him so rewarding because he is such a great person,” Woods said. “Seeing the way our fans have embraced him, the way people go absolutely 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 getting closer and focusing on the 10 seconds or so that I’m there,” he said. “I am not going to lie. It is very special. It took me a while to absorb it because I try to ignore most of the noise from everyone else, 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 all the advantages 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 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 as it is increasingly emphasized, Chapman has created a brotherhood that is hundreds of people deep in a country 14,000 kilometers away.
“You’re changing the game of college football with just the success we’ve had in terms of Ray Guy or representing all of the conferences and now you’re also leaking into the NFL,” said 2018 Cincinnati All-American James Smith, who hopes to form an NFL roster in 2022. “Being a part of that process that changed the way punt looks in college football is truly miraculous. And it’s a privilege to be a part of that. “
Ray Guy Award Winners from Australia
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.