Aussie punter has found second home at Ohio State

There are many college football players who don’t like Saturday

night games.

Cameron Johnston is not one of them.

The Ohio State punter welcomes the fourth-ranked Buckeyes’

second consecutive primetime game this week, this one at No. 16

Northwestern, because it makes it a whole lot easier on his parents

back in Geelong, Australia.

”We had an 8 o’clock game (last week), so that was Sunday

morning at 10 a.m. for them,” he said. ”It saved them because the

other games at 12 o’clock noon, they were up at 2 in the

morning.”

With his folks glued to the TV, the 21-year-old punted six times

for a 39.8-yard average – pinning Wisconsin inside its own 20 on

each one. It was a huge factor in the Buckeyes’ 31-24 victory and

earned him the Big Ten player of the week honors on special

teams.

The 21-year-old Aussie has a knack for putting backspin on his

punts, allowing him to pinpoint his punts rather than have them

bound end-over-end into the end zone.

”He’s actually better at that than driving it,” coach Urban

Meyer said. ”His last punt was a 4.5- or 4.6-seconds hang time and

that’s what we expect all the time. He’s a very valuable weapon for

us. He’s a freshman, too, so we’ve got him for a long time.”

How Johnston came to Ohio State is an epic story on its own.

With Ohio State’s punter graduating after last season, Meyer

turned to special-teams and cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs with a

simple directive: ”Go find your punter. I don’t care where you

find him, go find your punter.”

Coombs and the rest of Ohio State’s coaches scoured the Buckeye

state but didn’t find a suitable replacement. They spread the

search to no avail. Then Coombs watched a video supplied by a

punting and kicking coach in Australia who had sent several players

to American colleges. He was intrigued.

”So you take a look at all of them,” Coombs said. ”That was

exhausting and tiresome. You don’t really know what you’re looking

at. Then you’re trying to figure out what kind of a person it is,

how is he going to be able to manage this? This (one) kid happened

to be 21, he happened to already have played Australian Rules

Football. He had a lot of those things going on.

”So there’s all these phone calls and you still don’t have a

name with a face.”

So Ohio State decided to bring Johnston in for an official

visit, even though he had little experience with the American

version of football and the coaching staff had never really seen

him punt with people running at him trying to block the kick.

After meeting him and going over their options, he was offered a

scholarship before he left on the daylong flight home.

So far, it’s been a perfect fit. With the Buckeyes hanging on to

a seven-point lead with 1:29 left against Wisconsin, he came

through with a 55-yard punt that was downed at the Badgers 10.

”As anyone would expect, for somebody from not just a small

school or something like that but from a completely foreign

environment to come into this environment and have to perform is

going to take a little bit of time,” Coombs said. ”His

development has been extraordinary and very rapid. He obviously has

talent, but there’s a lot more that goes into being the punter,

particularly here, than just talent, just being able to catch a

ball and kick it. He had a great game on Saturday, but I believe

that there are better days ahead for him.”

Johnston has adapted off the field as well.

He said Americans have only had two misconceptions about people

from the land Down Under: that Aussies are always putting shrimp on

the barbie, and that they only drink Foster’s beer.

”That’s not even brewed in Australia anymore,” he said with a

laugh.

Now if his teammates and best friends could just understand

everything he says.

They nod and smile politely, but then they walk away trying to

figure out what he just said in his unique accent.

”No one really makes fun of him, but clearly the way he talks

is funny,” receiver Corey Brown said. ”Sometimes coach Meyer will

joke around with him a little bit. He’s well respected on this

team, especially with the way he punts the ball.”

Johnston has yet to visit an Outback Steakhouse. Maybe that’s

why his biggest communication problem is in restaurants.

”The waitress will end up asking you about four to five times

what you ordered,” he said with a grin. ”Then you just get your

friend to tell her.”

That’s about the only thing he’s needed help with at Ohio

State.

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