SALT LAKE CITY — Like death and taxes for the general population, there are a few trends that have become certainties for the University of Utah football team.
Beating BYU. Hiring a new offensive coordinator. Signing an Australian punter.
The Utes, who beat the rival Cougars for the eighth straight time last month and are on the verge of employing their ninth play-caller in 11 years, added another Aussie kicker to their roster on Wednesday morning.
Following the footsteps of Boomer booters Tom Hackett and Mitch Wishnowsky, Ben Lennon joined the Utah program from Down Under. This Aussie punter, who calls himself a “washed-up Aussie rules footballer now giving punting a crack” on his Twitter bio, signed a national letter of intent to play for Kyle Whittingham’s squad during Wednesday’s early signing period.
Following a brief stint in the Australian Football League, Lennon quit that sport and began to transition to a possible career in American-rules football with an Aussie-based kicking academy called Prokick Australia.
The 23-year-old Lennon and USC-bound Ben Griffiths were featured in an ESPN.com article earlier this football season. Lennon was a first-round AFL pick in 2013 but struggled to crack the rotation after suffering a shoulder injury in 2016. That led him to follow the plethora of transformed Aussie punters to the U.S. Griffiths is making his career switch at age 27.
“Both guys have adapted really well, but now need to understand the specifics around the game,” Prokick Australia trainer and former NFL punter Nathan Chapman told ESPN. “They are continuously learning that so much rides on one kick and that they constantly need to make it difficult for the punt returner.”
Lennon said they worked out five times a week with the academy — three kicking sessions and two gym workouts. The converted kickers booted 250 balls a week. Part of their training includes becoming adapted to wearing pads and helmets.
“I’ve really enjoyed the transition,” Lennon told ESPN. “I compare it to golf at the moment — I hit one good one (spiral) and the next is average, so (I’m) still working on that consistency, but I’m really enjoying the game."
The on-the-run punting style has become more popular in the U.S. in recent years, thanks, in part, to the Australian punter pipeline.
Prokick Australia is making a name for itself in the U.S., helping the likes of Hackett, Wishnowsky, the Philadelphia Eagles’ Cameron Johnston, the Seattle Seahawks’ Michael Dickson, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Jordan Berry and former Dallas Cowboys punter Tom Hornsey.5 comments on this story
“We are at the stage now where we’ve developed a network of coaches in college football,” Chapman told ESPN. “And the coaches of each program tell us what type of guy they are looking for, and in the case of (Lennon and Griffiths) the timing was perfect.”
Both Hackett and Wishnowsky excelled as the Utes’ punter. Hackett was honored as the country’s best punter, winning the coveted Ray Guy Award in 2014 and ’15, and Wishnowsky made it three in a row for the Utes by punting his way to the accolade in 2016.