Jesse Mirco is the latest Australian who plans to use the skills he developed as an Australian Rules Football player to get a free education while playing American college football.
Mirco, 23, signed a letter of intent this week with the NCAA American football powerhouse Ohio State Buckeyes. He’s scheduled to arrive in Columbus, Ohio to serve as a punter for the Buckeyes commencing with the 2021 season.
Mirco, from Perth, is the 18th recruit already committed to play at Ohio State in 2021, part of what’s being described as the No. 1 recruiting class in all of U.S. college football.
He will follow in the footsteps of fellow Australian Cameron Johnston, who also punted for Ohio State and is now a professional with the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles.
Mirco has never been to Ohio State but plans are for him to visit Columbus this fall and take in a Buckeyes game.
Last year, the first under new head coach Ryan Day, Ohio State qualified for the College Football Playoff, losing 29-23 to the Clemson Tigers in the semifinals. The Buckeyes are among the favorites to win this year’s NCAA football national title according to the major sportsbooks.
From AFL To American Gridiron
Mirco is the latest Australian Rules Football player to seamlessly make the transition to American football.
ProKick Australia, a Melbourne-based organization headed by co-coaches Nathan Simpson and John Smith, has served as a pipeline for Australians looking to get their kicks in America. They’ve placed over 75 Aussies with American schools looking for kicking help, and the majority of their students first mastered their punting skills playing Aussie Rules.
Chapman himself was an AFL player with the Brisbane Bears and Hawthorn Hawks before opting to take his talents to the NFL, where he had trials as a punter with the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears. Along with his ProKick Australia duties, Chapman also serves as a specialist skills coach with Richmond’s VFLW team.
Making the transition from punting in the AFL to punting in American football tends to come very naturally, since the swinging leg motion of punting an American football is remarkably similar. Mirco proved an especially quick study. He mastered the art of kicking the smaller American football in just four months.
In American football, teams have four downs, or chances, to move the ball 10 yards downfield either by running with it or passing it to a teammate. If they are unsuccessful and pinned deep in their own end of the field while facing fourth down, teams will turn to their punter to kick them out of danger of surrendering the ball to their opponents so close to their own end zone.
The punter is deployed as a defensive weapon. His task is to boom the ball deep down the field and high in the air, allowing the coverage team time to get downfield and tackle the return man before he can gain much yardage after catching the ball.
The best punters will boast net averages – the total of the length of their punts minus the yardage gained by the return man – of over 40 yards per kick.
NCAA Dominated by Australian Punters
The quality of Aussie Rules players who convert to American football punters is exemplary. During the 2018 NCAA season, 30 FBS teams – the top division – and some 35 teams in the second-tier Division One FBS utilized Australian punters.
Six of the last seven winners of the Ray Guy Award, which is presented annually to the top punter in the NCAA, have been punters recruited from Australia. Tom Hornsey of Memphis won in 2013, while Utah’s Tom Hackett was a back-to-back winner in 2014-15. Mitch Wishnowsky, who followed Hackett at Utah, won the award in 2016. Michael Dickson of Texas won in 2017 and the current holder of the award is Kentucky’s Max Duffy.
All of them were Aussie Rules players before turning to the American gridiron.
Aussie NFL Punters
Both of the NFL teams situated in the state of Pennsylvania employ Australian punters. While Johnston handles the duties for the Eagles, Jordan Berry has punted for the Pittsburgh Steelers since 2015. Berry, who played Aussie Rules for the Calder Cannons, owns a career NFL punting average of 44.2 yards per kick.
AFL legend Sav Rocca, known for his long, powerful punts, took that skill to the NFL after a lengthy career with Collingwood and North Melbourne. At 32, Rocca joined the Eagles as their punter, becoming the oldest rookie in NFL history.
He supplanted fellow Aussie Ben Graham as eldest NFL rookie. After playing 219 games for Geelong, Graham also departed for a career as an NFL punter. He won the Super Bowl with the New Orleans Saints, becoming the first person to play in the Super Bowl and the AFL Grand Final.
Former West Coast and Melbourne star Darren Bennett was the first AFL player to perform in the NFL when he joined the San Diego Chargers in 1995. Bennett was named the punter on the NFL All-Decade team for the 1990s.
Those fellows set the trend and today, many Aussie Rules players are giving American football a punt.