When you get Bob Gregory, the special teams coordinator at the University of Washington, talking about a growing trend around college football, it almost sounds like he is in pursuit of the perfect punter.
And Gregory thinks he knows where to go to find the new prototype.
The Huskies will use their Aussie, Joel Whitford, a rugby-style punter, on Saturday. Whitford will see another one of his countrymen in an Oregon State uniform – Nick Porebski – as the No. 6 Huskies tangle with the Beavers.
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There are more Australian connections coming. Half the Pac-12 programs have Australian punters on their rosters: Four of them — Michael Sleep-Dalton at Arizona State; Mitch Wishnowsky at Utah; Whitford at UW; and Porebski at Oregon State — are starters.
Wishnowsky, the Utes’ junior, is the reigning Ray Guy Award winner for the nation’s top college punter. His former teammate, Tom Hackett, also Australian, won that award in 2014 and 2015.
Rugby-style kicking is the wave of the future, Gregory said.
“That style gives you versatility,” Gregory said, “Not only can they kick from the pocket, but they move out of the pocket. They are not afraid of the rush, because most of these kids have grown up playing (Australian) Rules Football ... so they have guys in their face all the time and it doesn’t bother them. They are good athletes, and have a tendency to be bigger guys.
“We’ll see more and more of these guys.”
Back in Australia, Darren Bennett is a legend. He became the first Aussie Rules player to go directly to the NFL, signing with San Diego in 1995 and playing in 159 games.
The first Australian to play for an American university and then sign with an NFL squad was Mat McBriar, who attended Hawaii before signing with Dallas in 2004.
Nathan Chapman also pursued that dream, signing with Green Bay in 2004. He played in three preseason games as a free agent before being waived. He never played in an NFL regular season game.
What that experience did was inspire Chapman to return to Melbourne two years later and start an American football punting and placekicking school called Prokick Australia.
That is where Whitford and Porebski met for the first time.
“I had played Australian football my whole life. I got to 20, and I started having shoulder problems, and my body was not holding up,” Porebski said. “I picked up a letter in the mail that offered me a shot to go to Prokick Australia. I decided I might as well.”
Porebski went in 2013 for six months, and learned all sorts of stuff about American football.
“It was basically learning how to kick American-style, which is a spiral,” Porebski said. “Australian football is about the rollout.”
A year later, Whitford came aboard. For nine months, he would drive 70 miles from Neerim South to Melbourne three days a week to train with 30-40 other kickers.
“My program back home was to educate the guys and give them a head start (on American football),” said Whitford, who made his UW debut at Rutgers and has punted 11 times for a 37.1 average this season. “They had theory sessions every second week to talk about rules and different aspects of the game.”
Both Whitford and Porebski got started at U.S. junior colleges (Whitford at Santa Barbara CC and Porebski at Snow College) before landing scholarships at their respective universities.
Last summer, the two of them returned to Prokick Australia to train together before returning for preseason camp.
Much like all the Australians in the Pac-12 do, both guys try and stay in touch weekly through social media, giving game updates and scouting reports on certain returners.
The one guy Whitford won’t sell the goods on is teammate Dante Pettis, who leads the nation with his three punt returns for touchdowns.
“Nah, he hasn’t given up a lot on that,” Porebski said with a laugh. “I punted to him last year. I’ve got him down.”