Crawshaw making an impact as first Gator from Down Under

Australians are rapidly taking over the punting duties in college football.

About a decade ago, there were maybe a handful of Aussie punters on FBS teams. It was kind of a cool anomaly to see somebody from Australia punting in the SEC.

Now, you pretty much can’t flip on any college football game without at least one of the teams having an Australian punter. According to americanfootballinternational.com, 53 of the 129 FBS teams have a punter from Down Under. Six of the last eight Ray Guy Award winners call Australia home. There are five Australians on NFL rosters.

The Gators were a little late to the party, but they signed their first Australian, Jeremy Crawshaw, in December 2019.

“I love it,” Crawshaw said. “The SEC, I reckon, is the best football conference. The biggest and the baddest are here. The biggest crowds, the most diehard fans, and I love it. Florida fits right in. When I play at home with 90,000 in the Swamp, it’s goosebumps every time I run out. I love it, so I reckon there’s nothing like it. I love the fans. I love going out there to play. Love, love being part of UF.”

Like most Aussie punters in major college football and the NFL, Crawshaw trained at ProKick Australia. ProKick Australia is a punting and kicking factory in Melbourne that is led by a team of coaches who kicked in college and the NFL. Prospects train three days a week in punting or kicking and participate in a strength and conditioning program six days per week.

ProKick Australia has produced more than 150 college punters since its inception in 2007. They’ve established themselves as a one-stop shop for college coaches by training every type of punter you can think of. Some of their pupils specialize in the American-style spiral punt, while others specialize in the rollout rugby-style punt that is commonly associated with Australians.

Some of their punters are right-footed, and others are left-footed. Some are known for their abilities to kick the ball long distances, while others are renowned for their hang time or their pinpoint accuracy.

“To get into it, you have to go through an assessment day where our coaches, Nathan Chapman and John A. Smith, will either tell you that you have a leg that we reckon we could send you to a school, or they’ll say maybe you don’t, go out, work on the kicking, come back in six months, see if you’re good then,” Crawshaw said.

“So, this program, once you’ve been accepted I guess, it kind of takes you through the ropes. They teach you. They put you under pressure. They show you looks. They show you how to punt, most importantly, so that when we get over here, everything kind of just clicks. It’s a calm process. It’s not being slapped in the face and just freaking out and crumbling. So, they do a really good job of getting us ready to come over here and play in these big crowds.”

When a college coach has a scholarship opening, they can tell ProKick what type of punter they’re looking for, and ProKick will put them in contact with somebody who matches their specifications.

The process plays out more like an online dating service than a typical high school football recruitment. The convenience that comes with recruiting Australians is one of the explanations for why a country that’s about 1/13th the size of the U.S. and has little interest in American football is producing almost as many elite punters as the U.S.

Rather than sending coaches and recruiting staffers all over the country to scout and recruit American punters, teams can simply make one phone call and receive a guy on a plane in a few days. They can then use the time that they’ve saved by not having to recruit a punter on recruiting the five-star quarterbacks and receivers that everybody wants.

Everything came together quickly for Crawshaw. Dan Mullen contacted ProKick Australia and inquired about an American-style spiral punter. ProKick sent him film of Crawshaw punting and set up a phone call.

“Florida had reached out because Tommy [Townsend] was leaving,” Crawshaw said. “They said they needed a fella with a big leg, and I guess I fit that. So yeah, it was pretty much I was told like, ‘Hey, Florida wants to offer. You’re going to be on a phone call in about three days.’ So, late one night, I got on the phone with the coaches, and then I was handed off to Mullen, and, yeah, that was it. I was offered there.”

While being offered an athletic scholarship is a huge deal to American kids and their families, Crawshaw’s family and friends weren’t sure how to react at first. College sports aren’t a big deal outside of the U.S., so they couldn’t comprehend why he wanted to move to the other side of the world to play a sport that they didn’t fully understand.

It wasn’t until after they did some research on UF and Ben Hill Griffin Stadium that they fully understood just how big of a deal this was. His family accompanied him on a three-day visit to UF for the Tennessee game in 2019, and he committed shortly thereafter.

“College football isn’t a big thing back home,” he said. “It’s not heard of. Everyone knows the NFL, the Super Bowl, all that good stuff, but they don’t know college football. So, when I said I wanted to do that, they said, ‘Ah, you’re probably going to go to one of these D-3 schools in the middle of Kansas.’

“Then they saw I committed to UF and they see the stadium and the football fans and they’re like, ‘Wow, that’s crazy. You’re going to go play in front of 90,000 or 100,000 [people], packed stadiums.’ We don’t get that back home until the Grand Final, which is our Super Bowl.”

Mullen said that there are several challenges to recruiting an Australian player versus an American. Because of how long it takes to fly there and the time difference, Mullen wasn’t able to meet Crawshaw or see him kick in-person before offering him a scholarship. Everything was based off of video.

“You’re recruiting them off tape, and you’re trying to [figure out] ‘Is the tape going at the right speed? How high was the kick? What’s the hangtime? What’s the distance? Is there anything I’m not seeing, like, the tape’s hiding, talent-wise?’” Mullen said.

“Jeremy and his family came out here for the official visit, so you got to spend time, but he was already committed to us pretty much when he did that. ‘Is he going to be able to fit in?’ The NCAA requirements and student visa deals. He can’t even get an Outback Steakhouse name, image and likeness deal because he’s on a student visa, unfortunately. So, there’s all kinds of challenges that go into it.”

While Crawshaw is thrilled to be a Gator now, his childhood dream was to play for the Penrith Panthers, the local professional rugby team. However, he said he started playing rugby too late to play professionally, which led him to eventually pursue American football and ProKick Australia.

The toughest part of the transition to football was learning an entirely new way of kicking the ball.

“The spiral is completely different,” he said. “It’s the pocket spiral, 1-2-3, hit it nice and flat, about knee level. It’s very different to what we do back home. Back home, we’re more of the Aussie-style, real low, just punch it to someone about 20 yards away from you, like a quarterback throws. That’s what we do, so the spiral is very different.”

Of course, there was an even bigger adjustment when it came to learning a vastly different culture in America. Even though both countries speak English, Crawshaw said that the slang terms each country uses are so unique that American English and Australian English are almost like two separate languages.

“When I first got here, I was saying a lot of Australian kind of slang that everyone knows back home, but everyone here was kind of looking at me sideways and thinking I was backwards,” he said. “I’ve definitely had to tone it back in a way so that you Americans can understand me and don’t look at me sideways.”

Offensive lineman Stewart Reese said that the language barrier was an issue at first, but he and his teammates made an effort to understand him better.

“My biggest thing is when I meet people from different countries or different areas of the U.S., I try to sit down and talk with them, try and get an understanding of what certain words they say mean,” Reese said. “I don’t necessarily just come outright, but I try to sit and listen to them and try and piece together and puzzle together what words mean this and what phrases mean this. But, yeah, he’s a firecracker. That dude is something else.”

Crawshaw spent his first year on campus getting used to American college life and backing up Jacob Finn, who has since transferred to Virginia. He made his debut in the Cotton Bowl against Oklahoma when he averaged 49 yards on two punts.

As the starter this season. Crawshaw has had an inconsistent campaign. He’s averaging 46.3 yards per punt, and he boomed a career-long 69-yarder against Vanderbilt last week. He’s launched 10 punts of longer than 50 yards and had six of his punts downed inside the 20-yard line.

However, he’s also mishit a couple of balls, including a 22-yard shank against the Commodores.

He also got to show off his rugby background against Vanderbilt, darting around the left edge for 28 yards on a fake punt in the third quarter. He finished the game as Florida’s third-leading rusher.

“It’s not a daunting thing for me,” he said. “I kind of look forward to it. I was excited and wanted it to happen. So, when it happened and we got the look, I was just excited. I went for it. I went all out.

“I used to play winger because I was quick and kind of a thin frame. They used to just chuck me the ball, and I used to run around the outside. So, I guess what you saw on the weekend is a surprise for you guys but definitely wasn’t for me because I used to be doing that when I was younger.”

His teammates were blown away by how fast he ran on that play.

“I thought he was going to score, actually,” running back Nay’Quan Wright said. “Honestly, I didn’t know he was that fast. He showed me something. I didn’t know he was that fast. We’ve got to put him on offense, maybe throw him at receiver or something.”

Mullen, meanwhile, wasn’t surprised. Crawshaw’s speed is one of the reasons why he felt confident calling that play.

“We actually practice that stuff before we do it in a game, so I’ve seen him run,” he said. “I see him in the offseason through offseason training and conditioning, so he’s a phenomenal athlete. I know that. I didn’t know that when we recruited him as much, but he’s been here for a while, so I know his athleticism.”

Defensive tackle Antonio Valentino said it was cool to see people talking about Crawshaw after the game. He works extremely hard but plays an unglamorous position.

“Jeremy is cool, man,” Valentino said. “Obviously, he was kicking the ball all over the place on Saturday. Had a [69]-yard punt, hangtime was 5.5 seconds or something like that, and, obviously, he had the major fake punt. That was huge for us. So, it was good seeing him get some attention. The specialists don’t really get a lot of attention unless they’re doing something wrong or they cost you a game, or they’re hitting like a game-winning field goal or something like that. So, it’s nice to see him get recognition.”

Crawshaw is making a huge impact this season – and not just on the Gators or on his potential professional career. Because of the 15-hour time difference between Gainesville and Emu Plains, many of the Gators’ games take place in the middle of the night back home. His family insists on watching all of his games live, so they stay up late or wake up early to watch his 30 seconds of fame every week.

“I know they get up for them,” he said. “The build-up is pretty big, and they like to hang flags outside around the house just to let everyone else on the street know that we’re playing.”

He’s also inspiring the next generation of Australian punting legends.

“I’ve even got a few guys back home who are interested in joining the program at ProKick Australia, trying to get themselves over here, too,” he said. “It’s definitely growing in popularity. Since I’ve been here, my little town has definitely heard of [college football].”

Crawshaw is the first Gator from Australia, but he likely won’t be the last.

Ethan was born in Gainesville and has lived in the Starke, Florida, area his entire life. He played basketball for five years and knew he wanted to be a sportswriter when he was in middle school. He’s attended countless Gators athletic events since his early childhood, with baseball being his favorite sport to attend. He’s a proud 2019 graduate of the University of Florida and a 2017 graduate of Santa Fe College. He interned with the University Athletic Association’s communications department for 1 ½ years as a student and has spent the last two football seasons writing for InsideTheGators.com. He is a long-suffering fan of the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Tampa Bay Rays. You can follow him on Twitter @ehughes97.