Over the past few days, Ohio State fans have learned a lot about Cameron Johnston, and the football program hasn’t even confirmed his signing as of yet.
The punter from Australia, who told BSB on Wednesday night that he had arrived stateside, can reportedly boot the ball 80 yards on the fly and run a 4.4 40-yard dash.
Those are certainly exciting things to learn about someone who could very well be the Buckeyes’ starting punter in 2013, but here’s one more thing that shouldn’t be forgotten – Johnston will be studying at Ohio State to work in primary education.
“He’s hellbent on it,” his Australian coach, Nathan Chapman, told BSB.
The 21-year-old Johnston came through Chapman’s Prokick Australia program, a training program established in 2006 to, according to its website, “facilitate in the transition of aspiring kickers and punters to the grand stage of American football, and to help further their education or desire to play professionally in North America.”
However, in talking to Chapman, it’s clear the former point is more important than the latter.
“It just so happens that they can kick, but if a kid comes to me and says, ‘I don’t care about academics, I just want to play,’ trust me, they will not be in our program,” said Chapman, who punted with the Green Bay Packers for a short time in 2004. “It’s very important. We turn a lot of kids away. The strength of the program is they know exactly what is going to be required of them academically.”
The program based in Melbourne clearly works, too, as Chapman said 20 to 25 guys have made it into the American football ranks. Prokick alum Tom Hornsey was named a freshman All-American at Memphis in 2010 and has a career average of 42.6 yards. Wyoming’s Tim Gleeson averaged 43.0 yards per kick last year and earned all-conference honors. Jamie Keehn at LSU seems set to take over for fellow Aussie Brad Wing this year.
It’s not foreign in the Big Ten, either, where Christian Eldred punted for Minnesota last year, averaging 38.1 yards per kick.
However, the hope is that Johnston will be among the best of the bunch. Chapman has been telling reporters about how the native of the state of Victoria can average well into the 40s on his kicks with some tries simply booming off his foot with tremendous distance.
“He’ll be one of the better ones,” Chapman said. “He’s probably got one of the more powerful kicks, is what I’ll say. We’ve got 20-25 guys playing currently over there at the moment, and I guess they all come in different shapes and sizes and bring different things. Cameron has certainly got one of the more powerful kicks that we’ve seen.”
Johnston, 21 years old and about 6-0, 200 pounds, is a former Australian rules football player, which is where many of Chapman’s protégés come from. It takes a year to 16 months for each player to go through the program, which includes drills on just about everything a player would need to know about American football.
Australian rules football is a different animal, as there is tackling and running with the ball for every player on the field. There are multiple ways to punt and kick the ball in that sport, and the free-flowing motion of the game is slightly different than the regimented way in which American football is staged.
“We’ve gone about organizing his technique and showing him the formations and the situations where he would likely be punting and how it varies from an Australian rules point of view,” Chapman said. “He certainly packs a bunch, so we targeted a number of top teams and schools and universities in some of the bigger divisions.”
Chapman also did his best to assuage any worries about Johnston’s consistency as a punter. Though Prokick Australia provides schools with complete video tapes that’s how both the good and bad – “We’re not trying to fool anyone,” Chapman said – there is a concerted effort to make sure punters are able to perform at a high level.
“Cameron will be very consistent,” Chapman said. “That’s one of the things for our program and approach at Prokick Australia for me as a coach – if he’s not consistent, he’s not going.”
Johnston became an option after Ohio State lost out on highly rated Florida recruit Johnny Townsend, who was committed to the school for much of the 2013 recruiting process before switching to the Gators after National Signing Day.
The Buckeyes had considered Johnston earlier in the recruiting process but backed off after the Townsend commitment, so it was easy to open the lines of communication at that point. Johnston visited OSU in May and liked what he saw enough to make it a full-time thing.
OSU kicker Drew Basil was the No. 1 punter in spring with wideout Frank Epitropoulos pushing him, but Johnston figures to be a strong contender for that spot. He won’t be the first OSU specialist with an interesting back story – Ryan Pretorius came to the Buckeyes after a rugby career in South Africa, and Devin Barclay sent the school to the Rose Bowl in 2009 after a professional soccer career – and Chapman doesn’t think his pupil will have any trouble fitting in either.
“We’ve talked about professionalism,” Chapman said. “He’s going to fit in very well. He’s old enough to not be worried about getting homesick. He’s a real live wire around the locker room. He’s engaging, so he’s going to have a lot of friends quickly.”