Wake Forest's Kinal trades footy for US football
Alex Kinal can forget footy. The only football he's concerned about these days is the American kind, as the former Australian rules standout has found a spot as a punter at Wake Forest.
He didn't take up the American version of the sport until last April and says he's never put on a helmet and pads in a game. But with a handful of Australian-born punters in the NFL, Kinal is hoping there's room for another one in the college game. The freshman's first game comes Thursday night at Syracuse.
''It was kind of a leap of faith for both of us,'' coach Jim Grobe said Tuesday. ''But we haven't been disappointed. He's got a big-time leg.''
Kinal said he had to retrain his leg to kick in a more Americanized way.
A well-struck ball in Australia - where the game is called ''footy'' - rotates end-over-end and might not clear 10 feet in height. That's exactly what U.S. coaches don't want in a sport that prizes spiraling punts that hang in the air for several seconds at a time.
''We kick it end-over-end (in Australia) because it's sort of more precise - you know exactly where it's going,'' Kinal said. ''If (Australians) get a ball kicked to us like we kick one of these balls here, it's called a hospital ball because you will go to the hospital if you stand underneath it. And that's not a lie. I've stood underneath plenty of them.''
Kinal played roughly 10 years in Australia's junior footy leagues and became interested in American football after watching countrymen Sav Rocca and Ben Graham punting in the NFL.
Last fall, Kinal shot a video of himself punting and sent it to ''a bunch of D-I schools.'' Some schools shied away because of his inexperience. He heard back from four, and says Wake Forest was the most promising.
Demon Deacons assistant coach Billy Mitchell watched the tape and summoned his boss to take a look. Grobe then had noted kicking guru Rick Sang check it out.
''He punted a couple balls that haven't come down yet,'' Grobe said. ''It goes up and it goes up and it goes up and finally, way down the field, it drops on the ground, and you know, we're like, `Wait a minute, something's wrong here.'''
Grobe said the video was authentic.
''It wasn't punting a Nerf ball. It wasn't filled with helium. It wasn't an Australian-rules ball or anything. It was a for-real football,'' Grobe said.
Kinal already has earned the Demon Deacons' respect for his toughness. Grobe says he sees a glimmer in Kinal's eye when he punts during scrimmages - then races downfield in an attempt to make the tackle.
''Playing the sport I used to play, I've had guys running at me my whole life. But it's more ... noticeable here,'' Kinal said. ''You know exactly where they are. You know exactly where they're coming from. And that's what you've got to block out and just catch-to-kick, catch-to-kick.''
Added teammate Cyhl Quarles with a smile, about Aussie players: ''No pads. That means they're tough. They're real tough.''
Still, Grobe doesn't want to rush his inexperienced punter into the mix. Kinal is listed as the backup to redshirt sophomore Alex Wulfeck for the opener.
''We'll bring Alex along and try to get him into situations, if we use him right away, to where he can be comfortable and maybe not just throw him right into the fire,'' Grobe said. ''But I think he's got the potential to be really special.''