There is a growing trend in American football, at least at the collegiate level: Need a kicker? Head Down Under.
There’s good reason for tapping Australian talent for an edge on special teams. Athletes who grew up playing Aussie rules football are unique in that they learn how to punt from Day 1, because it’s the only way to score in the sport.
Still, while all players must learn, some are better than others. Such as Trent McKenzie of the AFL’s Gold Coast Suns:
If you’re not quick on the conversion math, that 80-meter punt equates to about 87.5 yards through the air.
McKenzie’s kick was done in the Australian Football League’s preseason game Friday during the NAB Challenge, and, if you’re not familiar with Aussie rules football, it was good for a point, just one, called a behind. If he had been a bit more accurate and had placed his kick through the center poles, it would have been a goal and worth six points.
For those racking their brains for a comparison to the NFL, there are only seven punters in history that have eclipsed McKenzie’s distance. Of course, in the NFL, a punt’s distance is measured from where the ball stops, not just its in-air yardage. Steve O’Neal, then of the New York Jets, holds the league record with a 98-yard drive in 1969. According to O’Neal, the kick traveled a whopping 75 yards through the air before bouncing the remaining 23 yards.
“I just hit it well,” he said (via the Jets’ website). “But of course back then the goalposts were on the goal line and they were just to my right. So I had less than 10 yards to kick the ball, in a real tight situation. It went about 75 yards in the air, it went over the returner’s head and when it hit the ground it just took off like a groundball.”
It should be noted that, while McKenzie’s kick clears those marks set by his American brethren, the oblong Aussie rules ball is a bit easier to boot. Still, the leg and technique translate well, as Tom Hackett, a two-time Ray Gay Award winner as college football’s top punter for the Utah Utes, and this booming kick from Michigan’s Blake O’Neill, another former Aussie rules player, illustrates:
“If you can’t kick, you’re not going to make it very far,” Hackett told the New York Times in October about playing Aussie rules.
McKenzie is only 23 years old, and considering Rams punter Johnny Hekker finished last season with the highest punting average at 47.9 yards, and only three punters’ season longs cleared 70 yards, maybe a resourceful NFL scout might make his way to Gold Coast for a visit.
If not, would anyone be surprised if Jim Harbaugh ended up hosting a spring practice trip in Oz sometime soon? Didn’t think so.