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Why Punting Comes Naturally to Tom Hutton, Australians

Could Hutton be the hidden gem of OSU’s 2019 class?



[Latrobe Valley Express]

Tom Hutton, the 28-year-old Australian punter, prepares to arrive in Stillwater as the favorite for next season’s starting job.

Hutton comes from ProKick Australia, a Melbourne-based organization that’s been churning out skilled punters, including former Texas punter and current Seattle Seahawk Michael Dickson. The school develops kicking specialists while college teams submit requests, and it brings back prospects who fit each team’s needs.

It’s a process that head man Nathan Chapman compares to customizing and purchasing a pizza. Hutton must have some talent to get recruited a decade later than the average FBS athlete. And OSU head coach Mike Gundy said he was adamant in finding an Aussie punter after the Cowboys faced Dickson and the Longhorns in a 2017 victory.

But this begs the question — why is a non-American-football-playing continent almost 9,500 miles away from the United States becoming a punting pipeline? The short answer is because of a sport that, although plays much differently than American football, has many important similarities.

The biggest reason why Australia has recently produced so many talented punters is because of its namesake sport, Australian rules football. In this sport, kicking is much higher emphasized, with kicking power and direction being two of a player’s most desirable traits. This is because kicking is used for both scoring and “passing,” and is done on the run. This kicking style, often referred to as “rugby style” here in the states (as it’s also used in rugby), has become more prevalent in college football in the past decade.

Although some punters use this running kick style, there are other parts of Aussie football that translate to the American game. The skilled Aussie football players have mastered multiple types of kicks, whether it be for passing or scoring, and they can make the ball move, fade and spin the way they want it to. Just like a golfer has multiple clubs for their short game, a player has multiple types of kicks and can use them with varying power.

The drop punt is the most common style for players to use. To do it, the kicker drops the ball and kicks it at its point with the same-side foot, resulting in an end-over-end punt.

The kicker can change the power, arc and trajectory of the punt, and the ball often comes at a difficult angle for returners, allowing it to roll even farther after hitting the ground.

Another example of a punt that can be used in both sports is the banana punt. The kicker holds the ball at a crooked angle and strikes the ball horizontally, sending the ball on a bending path through the air. It’s used in Aussie football to score from tight angles on the side of the posts.

It’s rarer in American football because of its difficulty, but here’s a clip of former punter Pat McAfee analyzing Johnny Hekker’s banana punt from 2017 (NSFW):

Those are just a couple of kicks that are used in Aussie football, not including ones like the uniquely-named torpedo, snap and checkside. There are some American punts that don’t have as much of a purpose in Aussie football, such as the knuckleball or backspin pooch. But it helps that these prospects already have an array, however small, of punts they can add to instead of starting from scratch.

The final reason why Australians make excellent punters has already been alluded to, but the importance (and frequency) of kicking in the sport makes it more of a focus. When prospects grow up playing and watching games that put such an emphasis on punting, in a sport where it serves as much more than a field position tool, it’s worked on more frequently and more in depth. And the sport’s best are damn good at it. The elite Australian Football League players can punt the ball torpedo-style (your standard punt) 70 meters, which converts to more than 76 yards. 

Whether Hutton will become the Cowboys’ next special teams star is yet to be seen, but it signifies a noteworthy adjustment in recruiting and further shows the Aussie invasion in college football. If the growing number of Australian punters is any indication, it’s an invasion that’s welcomed with open arms.

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