Ten days ago, I was sitting at a career transition camp with a host of former AFL players trying to learn a bit more about life after football.
How things have changed.
Punting was something I first thought about after my career at the Saints ended in 2015. Those initial thoughts passed, though, as I was trying to revive my AFL dream. It’s been two years and I’m turning 25 tomorrow so my time was running out.
It was while coaching at Brighton Grammar that the idea of punting returned. There was a kid there by name of Blake Hayes who was practicing to be a college punter. He got a scholarship to the University of Illinois for this season and that sparked the belief that I might be able to make something of this.
I approached Nathan Chapman, who runs Prokick, in the middle of the year and told him of my intentions. He invited me down for a bit of a tryout and I did okay enough that I joined the program.
It was obviously still the footy season at the time so I put it on the back-burner while I tried to help Williamstown into the VFL finals. Once that ended, I put all my efforts into the program, which included three training sessions and two gym sessions per week — it’s a full-on commitment.
While I was blessed to have the technique for a long kick from an early age, punting is more than being able to roost the ball.
You hold the ball differently, have limited time to kick and the most important thing is the accuracy of the punt — I feel like playing Australian Rules my whole life has helped me get a grasp on these skills.
We have our training sessions filmed on Fridays and Chappy does his best to send them to his contacts in America to garner interest. He’d been regularly talking to me about my prospects but I didn’t think anything would happen until next year.
When it got to late October, Chappy was confident something could get done but was unsure about the timeframe — that was the moment I genuinely thought I might be a chance of going to an American college.
But things were still so up in the air and I had to continue on with my life. I attended the AFLPA and AFLSportsReady Outduction Camp on Tuesday and Wednesday last week on the Mornington Peninsular to get a greater understanding of what life after footy will look like.
Everything was ticking along as normal. I went to sleep on Sunday night in the same mindset as I have in the last two years but woke up to the news that I’m a punter for Auburn University.
It’s a dramatic transition from believing my AFL dream was over — one I’d been aiming for my whole life — to accepting one I’d had for less than half a year.
Auburn University — one of the best college’s in the states — will become my second home. I must admit, I didn’t know a huge amount them except that they have a massive rivalry with Alabama, who they coincidentally play this weekend.
They play in front of nearly 90,000 people every week. The biggest crowd I saw was in my fifth AFL game in Round 11, 2011 against Collingwood, which was around 63,000 — I’m not sure if I’ll be able to tell the difference but the one thing I think I will notice is having the entirety of the crowd either for or against me.
One of the first people I spoke to was Jason Holmes. Jason has become of my best friends, we lived together for a while when he came over to Australia and it’s a remarkable coincidence that I’ll now be heading over to his native country to participate in a foreign sport, one his brother plays professionally.
Jason was over the moon and I’m sure I’ll lean on him for advice when I head over. I’m actually headed over there for a holiday in a couple of weeks and have agreed to stop by and meet the Auburn coaches and get more information of what I’ve got myself into.
I’m accepting a full academic and sporting scholarship and I’ll be able to transfer my teaching and exercise science degree over, which is equally important for me.
Overall, it’ll be sad to leave my friends and family and obviously that means giving up the game I still love. Ideally, I would’ve loved to have a second crack at the AFL. Not being able to live out that dream is something I’m still coming to terms with but this is an opportunity I was always going to accept if it came my way.
I can’t wait to make the transition with my partner Rachael to start a new phase of our lives together. Now’s a good a time as any to show my appreciation for her support throughout the journey. It’s her support along with the guys at Prokick who have made this possible.
I can’t wait to repay their faith.