OSU, lots of other schools know where to find punters

Jim Naveau - Staff Columnist

In a 1995 episode of the television show Coach, college football coach Hayden Fox traveled to a remote fictional country to recruit a kicking phenom for his Minnesota State Screaming Eagles football team, whose success was also usually fictional.

After much hardship, including avoiding freezing to death in a cave with his two assistant coaches, Fox finally reached the prospect’s home where he found Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz, who had already convinced the kid to sign with the Fighting Irish.

Ohio State coach Ryan Day and special teams coach Matt Barnes didn’t have to go that far to recruit OSU’s possible punter of the future when Jesse Mirco, who is from the western Australian city of Freemantle, commited to the Buckeyes’ 2021 recruiting class two weeks ago.

Australia has become to punters something like what Saudi Arabia is to oil, mainly because of Pro Kick Australia, which trains athletes from Australian rules football, rugby and other sports to become punters.

Cameron Johnston, Ohio State’s punter from 2013-2016, came out of Pro Kick Australia. Six of the last seven Ray Guy Award winners as the top punter in college football and four of the top five punters in the Big Ten last season were from Australia.

Since Pro Kick was established in 2007 more than 100 punters have received football scholarships from schools in the United States.

Indiana, Michigan State, Nebraska, Cincinnati and Georgia Tech all have received commitments from Australian punters in the last week.

Johnston, now with the Philadelphia Eagles, is one of four former Pro Kick Australia trainees currently playing in the NFL.

Mirco has been punting for only four or five months but OSU’s coaches already think he might be a four-year punter for them.

When Jim Tressel was at Ohio State he often said that the punt was the most important play in football. He wasn’t the first coach to say it but he might have said it with more passion than any of the others.

Tressel was frequently mocked for saying this, including by me. But taking the long view, a lot of things Tressel said were intended mainly to motivate and that was one of them.

Punting isn’t a glamorous part of football. It might be overlooked at times. But if a coach exaggerates its importance and talks about it constantly, maybe his players will pay more attention to it.

It certainly hasn’t been neglected when Tressel and Urban Meyer and Ryan Day have built their rosters.

From Andy Groom to B.J. Sander, to Kyle Turano, to A.J. Trapasso, to Jon Thoma, to Ben Buchanan, to Cameron Johnston, to Drue Chrisman there has not been a dud in the bunch.

Ohio State likes to claim the label of Defensive Backs University for all the defensive backs it has had drafted in the first round of the NFL draft. But its punting game has been strong and so consistent it is almost taken for granted.

Mirco is the eighteenth commitment for Ohio State in its 2021 recruiting class, which is ranked No. 1 nationally.

That class includes three 5-star players (defensive end Jack Sawyer, running back TreVeyon Henderson and quarterback Kyle McCord), 11 4-star players and three 3-stars.

Jim Naveau

Staff Columnist

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