Johnston Acclimating Fast
By Patrick Murphy
Going away to college is a difficult transition for anyone. It is generally the first time a young person leaves home for an extended period of time and they are expected to fend for themselves.
Add in the difficulty of playing college football at a major program – dealing with the expectations and pressures – and it is tough for the layperson to understand how athletes manage successfully.
Photo by Dan Harker
Ohio State’s freshman punter, Cameron Johnston, is taking leaving for college to a new level.
After missing out on punter Johnny Townsend, – who was committed to Ohio State but wound up signing with Florida – the Buckeyes found themselves without a punter heading into the season. 10,000 miles away, in Geelong, Australia, 21-year old Johnston was preparing for the American game.
The former Australian Rules Football player saw an opportunity to make a big life change and have a chance to play the American game while getting his degree in the United States.
“Once I sort of realized [the U.S.] was where I wanted to be, I came on a visit and just loved it.” Johnston said of his decision to join Ohio State’s football team.
It is not uncommon for players to make the transition from the Australian game to the American. The Australian company Johnston used to prep for American football, Prokick Australia, has 18 players currently playing college football, including Christian Eldred at Minnesota and Jamie Keehn of LSU.
So who is the man from down under who elected to help save the Buckeyes from a season without a true punter?
As an Australian player, he played a much different role than he will in the Scarlet and Gray.
“My role was more a lot of running and a lot of tackling, so I’d end up running say 10 miles a game and punting, kicking on the run, tackling from all directions,” he explained.
There would likely be little of that as a punter, or at least Johnston and the special teams hope not.
“If I need to make a hit, I’ll make a hit,” he said. “Hopefully the punting is good enough and we’ve got some great people out there that are going to make some massive tackles.”
This athleticism is something Urban Meyer has already commented on, stating that it is something they might be able to utilize.
In Fall Camp, Johnston has practiced both the straight drop back punts as well as rollout ones. He claims that between his work in the Australian game and through Prokick’s year and half program, he is comfortable with either method.
“It’s whatever the coach calls really,” Johnston said. “If he wants a spar, I’ll kick a spar. If he wants to roll out and do a drop put then that’s what he wants. I’m comfortable doing either way. It’s whatever Coach Meyer wants and Coach Coombs wants, I’ll do it for them.”
The chance for the Buckeyes to do either gives them diversity in the punting game. All one would have to do is look back to the Purdue game last year to see the effect the rollout punt can have.
After rolling out and performing a drop kick earlier in the game, the Boilermakers’ Cody Webster took a similar approach, but ran for the first down. Ohio State now has a punter who is not only comfortable with the roll out, but also used to making athletic plays downfield.
On a personal level, Johnston seems like a good fit for the Buckeyes. The wide-eyed red head was excited to answer questions about his past and his game as well as joke around at media day.
“In Australia we drive on the other side of the road and the driver sits on the right,” Johnston told the media. “When Coach Gillum game to pick me up from the airport I went to get in the car on the wrong side of the car.”
Senior kicker Drew Basil also had fun at Johnston’s expense.
“He’s still working on his American accent to try and fit it,” he said, while also sharing the side of the car mistake.
While Johnston may not be a great American driver, it sounds like his American punting is looking promising.
“He’s really good,” Basil said.
“Just watching the ball fly off his foot, it’s amazing. You just sit there and watch him; it doesn’t even look like he’s putting any effort to it. It’s going high, it’s going far. It’s a lot of fun to watch.”
Meyer has also been complimentary of the freshman’s ability.
“He’s doing good,” he said at the beginning of Fall Camp. “The first day was ridiculous. He was a one-shot wonder."
How are things different for Johnston playing American football? Well for one, he won’t have the responsibility of passing the ball.
“Back home we punt the ball to pass it,” Johnston explained. “So the way the quarterback would throw the ball is the way we sort of pass it.”
There will be no pressure on him to pass the way he’s used to, but there will be pressure from the defense on the rush. Johnston said his work with Prokick and his time here has made him pretty comfortable facing the rush.
“I don’t really have any issues with it just because the program back home, Pro Kick, we teach that,” he said of the rush.
“The guys are a lot bigger because we can’t simulate 6-foot-7 guys coming at you with the program we’ve got there, but we’ve got all the stuff back home.”
He also claims he has become accustomed to wearing pads, something they do not have in Aussie Rules. Prokick has all the equipment in order to have the players adjusted by the time they arrive on campuses.
“We put the pads on, we’ve got the helmets, we’ve got everything there,” Johnston said of the program at home.
“We train for that for a year and half straight before. Coach will not let you go until he knows that you are 100% ready to go. Yeah, I have no issues at all with pads and helmet.”
How familiar was the Australian with American football and the Buckeyes? Apparently more than most people expected.
“It is on ESPN, it’s on all that at home,” Johnston said of college football. “Everyone loves it.”
And of the Buckeyes, the Australian reaffirmed their international status.
“Out of all the teams, Ohio State, they’re the biggest,” Johnston said.
“You get people back home wearing the Ohio State hats and Ohio State sweatshirts. I think that’s what a lot of people here don’t realize that in Australian it’s a pretty big deal, everyone knows about them.”
As Johnston continues to get comfortable in Columbus, the Buckeye faithful will likely fall for the new punter. The combination of his punting ability, his athleticism, and his accent and humor seem like a perfect fit for Ohio State.