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Former Giant no average punter

On February 3, 2015, Josh Growden announced he’ll be joining Louisiana State University on an American Football scholarship. The story below was published in June, 2014 and details his transition from injury-prone Greater Western Sydney recruit to American Football hopeful.

Having kicked a footy nearly every day for 20 years, Josh Growden has only picked up a Sherrin once in the last six months.

The former GWS Giant has been training as an NFL punter since December last year with the hope of playing for an American College sometime in the near future.

But as the 21-year old explains, he’s received advice that kicking an AFL footy could ruin his technique and stall development as a punter.

“I haven’t really kicked a footy in a while – probably only once since I started this,” Growden says.

“I’m living with the Frosts so that’s helped me a lot in settling into Melbourne” – Growden

“Cam Johnson, who’s at a college over in the USA, came back for a couple of months for a break and said ‘don’t go kicking an AFL footy because it puts you back into old habits with your punting’. So I’ve only kicked a footy once, and that was just with a mate.”

After being delisted at the end of 2013, and performing well at a testing day organised by the AFL Players Association in December, Growden now trains three times a week under the guidance of the country’s best punting program – Prokick Australia.

He explains that while the basics of kicking a Sherrin help, they aren’t enough to automatically transition an AFL player into a punter.

“For starters, [AFL players] don’t ever really kick off two steps so you’re a bit restricted because you’ve got to be quick,” he says.

“With AFL you kind of swing your leg across your body and, being a left footer, I have a natural arcing style and I might walk out to the left and hook it. But with punting you’ve got to be dead-straight and have to make sure you walk in straight.

“You also don’t guide the ball down; you kind of throw it out so you’re kicking at a higher trajectory. It is a bit different and it takes a bit to get used to but just having that kicking we’ve got from footy goes a long way for your development in punting… I’ve had to make a few adjustments along the way.”

It’s not just his technique Growden’s had to adjust since becoming a punter. After three injury-plagued years at GWS, the former ‘17-year-old Access Selection’ – a crop that includes Jeremy Cameron, Adam Treloar, and Dylan Shiel – has also adjusted his living arrangements.

He travelled from his home in South Australia to Western Sydney upon getting drafted, before heading down to Melbourne for the Prokick program. He hopes to be in the United States by early next year.

“It’s like draft day in that you’re not drafted anywhere until you’re there” – Growden

But, thanks to former teammate Sam Frost’s family, Growden isn’t bothered with the transition around the lower half of the country.

“It kind of all happened around two or three months,” he says.

“I’m living with the Frosts so that’s helped me a lot in settling into Melbourne; I don’t get homesick or anything like that. Moving to Sydney was fine and moving to Melbourne was no different – except for the cold weather.”

The ideal scenario for Growden would be gaining a scholarship to a Division 1 College and spending the next four or five years punting for the University.

But the boy from Henley Beach South concedes there’s only so much he can control.

“It’s all in the hands of coaches John Smith and Nathan Chapman,” Growden says.

“They contact the recruiters for the colleges and show them footage of our kicking. You kind of just leave it in their hands and then it’s up to us to produce good film to show them.”

It’s a situation he’s somewhat familiar with.

“It’s like [AFL] draft day in that you’re not drafted anywhere until you’re there,” he explains.

“Chappy’s been speaking to a college that’s shown a bit of interest… but it’s very early stages and a lot of it can fall through.”

Unfamiliar for Growden though, is being able to play a sport where his body will hold up. After breaking his leg and having surgeries on both hips, it’s something he’s looking forward too.

“Punting is a perfect opportunity to give my body a rest and it’s not going to get put through those injuries because we’re literally just kicking a ball.

“You don’t really have to face the impact of tackles or the amount of running in the AFL. It’s good not having to worry about getting injured.”

Injuries took their toll on Growden’s career, both physically and mentally. He finished up at the Giants without playing an AFL game, even admitting in January his passion for the game had faded. Having said all that, he reflects fondly on his time in the AFL.

“I enjoyed my time and the experience that I had. I made a lot of great friendships with the players and coaches. As a kid I always wanted to play AFL, but when things didn’t really work out, I just had to rethink.”

With things looking up for the unlucky ex-Giant, he couldn’t be more excited.

“I’m in a nice patch at the moment. I love what I’m doing and I couldn’t be happier.”

Find out more about Prokick and the AFL Players’ testing day here.