Tapes led Buckeyes to punter

Australian’s booming leg fills an immediate need

8/17/2013
BY DAVID BRIGGS
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Johnston
Johnston

COLUMBUS — Ohio State punter Cameron Johnston’s recent move from Australia has required a few cultural adjustments.

You know, like learning to drive on the right side of the road and picking up a new language.

"I have spent an awful lot of time learning to speak Australian, and it is remarkably different," OSU special teams coordinator Kerry Coombs said with a smile.

Not to mention Johnston’s transition from kicking tail to kicking footballs. While the 21-year-old was once a hard-hitting Australian Rules Football player, he now leaves the dirty work to his mates.

"It would be fun if I could make a hit," he said. "But hopefully the punts are good enough, and we've got some great people out there that are going to make some massive tackles."

So far, the most unlikely member of the Buckeyes’ touted freshman class has impressed.

Johnston represents the missing piece in a special teams puzzle that continues to gain clarity. Elsewhere, senior Drew Basil returns for third season at kicker while Meyer said he has a "plethora" of return options, including senior wideout as the top punt returner and senior H-back Jordan Hall, junior cornerback Bradley Roby, freshman running back Dontre Wilson, and freshman receiver James Clark in the mix on kickoffs.

The void at punter loomed large from the day Ohio State was left at the signing-day altar by Johnny Townsend, who flipped his commitment to Florida. With the graduation of Ben Buchanan, the Buckeyes suddenly found themselves without a scholarship punter. Basil pulled double-duty in the spring while coaches began their search for a punter anew.

Johnston entered their sights only after sending OSU a package of his tapes.

The Aussie had a big leg and an intriguing backstory. Johnston, a jack-of-all-sports who also also ran track and played cricket in high school, played professionally in the Australian Football League, and spent a year at Deakin University before dropping everything to begin a punting apprenticeship.

If that sounds strange, it did to some of his buddies, too. Johnston said his interest was piqued after a couple of friends who trained at Pro Kick Australia in Melbourne earned college scholarships in the United States. Besides, he found America’s version of football captivating.

"It's on ESPN," Johnston said. "Everyone loves it. And out of all the teams, Ohio State is the biggest."

So he spent more than a year training at Pro Kick, ultimately compiling film of himself driving the ball at least 65 yards one boot after another. Coombs was impressed, and a scholarship offer soon followed.

"Isn't that an amazing story?" Coombs said. "Think about it. We lost our punter on signing day. We went through all of spring with our kicker as our punter. [Basil is a] serviceable punter and a great kid, but through an awful lot of connections and conversations ... we found a kid who I believe is truly special in a lot of ways."

Johnston still has to prove it in front of 105,000 fans at Ohio Stadium, and while facing a live rush. After light struggles on his first day — first time ever, really — in a live scrimmage setting last week, he quickly adjusted. Johnston also could be used for the roll-out rugby-style kicks he let fly in Australian football.

"He's a tremendous kid, 21 years old, so he's not that 17-year-old, wide-eyed guy that looks at you like, 'What planet am I on?'" coach Urban Meyer said. "He's a fast athlete, so we might be able to do some things with him, moving the pocket and so forth."

Living his American dream, Johnston said he will gladly do whatever is asked.

"This has been a lot of fun," he said.

THOMPSON OPTIMISTIC: Freshman safety and Central Catholic graduate Jayme Thompson was in good spirits this week as he began working his way back from a severe high-ankle sprain.

Thompson, who underwent surgery last Thursday, said he expects to be at full strength by the Buckeyes’ bowl practices in December.

"It [the injury] hurt personally because everyone has goals that they want to accomplish," he said. "But it’s not going to stop the team goals or how I feel about this season and what we’re going to accomplish. This is just a minor setback. I feel like everything happens for a reason."

GRIFFIN OUT: Junior cornerback Adam Griffin's career is likely over after he underwent surgery for an undisclosed shoulder injury, OSU announced Thursday.

Griffin, the son of two-time Heisman Trophy winner Archie Griffin, played in all 12 games last season — mostly in a special teams role. He had 13 tackles and contributed one of the more memorable plays from the punt return unit, batting down a pass on a fourth-down fake at Penn State.

Griffin is a fourth-year consumer and financial services major.

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