Former Carlton defender Paul Bower is weighing up whether to pursue a career as an American football punter after showing promise at the recent AFL Players ProKick Australia testing combine.
The 26-year-old, who played 70 games for the Blues between 2006 and 2012, received some strong feedback about his potential to succeed at the collegiate level over in the US from ProKick coach and former NFL convert Nathan Chapman.
“I got some feedback that the few good punts I landed were as good as college punters over there,” Bower said.
“Nathan Chapman said, if I’m serious about it to come and join the program and we’ll look at potentially getting me to a college at the end of next year and giving that a go.
“Nathan said the sooner I make the decision, the sooner I can start getting into it with training and preparing for the middle to end of next year.
“They’re quick, fast, strong, and very talented over there so I’d have to get the punting up to scratch pretty soon.”
ProKick Australia – a program run by Chapman and ex NFL placekicker John A. Smith – is designed to teach and develop Australians in the NFL skill of punting to attract potential scholarship offers from US colleges.
The ProKick combine provides retired AFL players with a chance to test their potential to play the American game and covers everything from punting – a role former AFL stars Ben Graham and Saverio Rocca have excelled in since taking their talents to the US – through to receiving and tackling skills.
Though Bower found punting challenging, the former Blues defender said it was clearly the position that suited him best.
“It’s such a different skill from kicking a footy. It’s very precise – a couple of centimetres each way with your ball drop could be the difference between a good and a bad punt.
“I just went down with no expectations and ended up landing a couple of good punts.
“We also did a few other running tests that weren’t really relevant to punting, such as a 40-yard sprint, a few runs that a wide receiver would do, some catches and a punt return – which were really fun.
“I got some feedback that the few good punts I landed were as good as college punters over there” – Paul Bower
“If I gave the program a crack punting would be the number one choice, but if I’m up for another position then I’d love to give that a go, 100 percent.”
While ‘code-hopping’ between domestic sports has been in vogue in recent years, swapping to an international sport – particularly one that still receives a relatively small amount of media covered in this country – has only happened on a few occasions.
Only Darren Bennett, Ben Graham, Saverio Rocca, Chris Bryan and Chapman himself have been able to reach the most elite level in both the AFL and the NFL leagues – all as punters.
Having said that, a number of other Australians have had successful stints in the American college system. ProKick graduate Cameron Johnston and former AFL player Scott Harding are the latest to flourish playing US college football and former GWS Giant Josh Growden, who joined the ProKick program after testing at the combine last year, is hopeful of following a similar path.
While Bower is yet to decide whether he’ll commit to the ProKick program in 2015, he says the idea is certainly tempting.
“I haven’t committed either way as yet, but I think it would be an unbelievable opportunity and a chance to go over there and study while playing a top level sport again… that’s something I really miss.
“I’ve been out of the AFL for a couple of years now and the professional sporting and team-oriented atmosphere would be great to be a part of again.”
Read about the experiences of another ProKick graduate, former GWS player Josh Growden, here.