Buckeyes go ‘down under’ for punter

Aussie Rules footballer tapped to kick for OSU

6/6/2013
BY DAVID BRIGGS
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Johnston
Johnston

COLUMBUS — The Ohio State football team may have found its next punter.

All it took was expanding its search outside the sport, the archetype of the position, heck, even the continent.

Cameron Johnston, a 21-year-old ex-Australian Rules Football player with a stalwart right leg and track speed, is expected to answer one of the Buckeyes’ biggest questions this season.

Johnston will join the Buckeyes immediately, his coach, Nathan Chapman, said Wednesday in a phone interview from Melbourne. Though an Ohio State spokesman could not yet confirm the commitment, Chapman said Johnston has accepted a scholarship offer and is en route to OSU. Johnston’s flight from Australia arrived in the U.S. on Wednesday.

Asked what the Buckeyes can expect from Johnston, the coach was not bashful, describing a player who can run the 40-yard dash in 4.4 seconds and turn punting into theater.

"I think there will be fans that go to watch him warm up," said Chapman, 38, a former Aussie Rules Football player who once tried out for the Green Bay Packers. "That's the way I'll say it."

Johnston, who first displayed his leg in the AFL, spent the past several months training at ProKick Australia in Melbourne. The program aims to siphon hopeful kickers to American colleges after a year of instruction, with a growing roster of alums that include Minnesota’s Christian Eldred and Indiana’s Marcus Kinsella in the Big Ten, along with about a dozen others who spent last season on Division I rosters.

Chapman noticed Johnston’s promise immediately, and began sending tapes to colleges. Now available on YouTube, they show Johnston booting the ball at least 65 yards one kick after another. Though under only light simulated pressure, one punt traveled 80 yards point to point.

Among those interested was Ohio State, especially after its expected future punter — Johnny Townsend — reversed course and signed with Florida in February, leaving the Buckeyes without a scholarship punter. Drew Basil handled both placekicking and punting duties during the spring, but OSU coaches ideally wanted Basil to focus on kicking.

Finally, the Buckeyes’ decided Johnston was the answer.

So here he comes, from Australia to America, from one football to another, from flipping bodies to flipping fields. Can Johnston handle the heat?

"He's a pro athlete," Chapman said. "He's going to adjust very quickly. ... This guy is probably going to give [Ohio State’s] wide receivers a run for their money. He's probably going to run — you're going to be very surprised — a 4.4. He's fast. He's an athlete, he bounces around like a kangaroo. As an [Australian] football player, he was the guy who put his head down and got knocked in the head and the back because he was an under guy who could move around the ground very quickly.

"The Buckeyes fans and the program are going to get an absolutely fantastic guy, a quality kid, and he's going to give them some entertainment before the game, for sure."

Contact David Briggs at: dbriggs@theblade.com, 419-724-6084 or on Twitter @DBriggsBlade.