Ask a football fan to name any position on the field, and most will not say “punter” as the first player that comes to mind. Although an occasionally forgotten position, the impact of a solid punter can give a team an edge over its opponent, much like Ohio State graduate senior punter Cameron Johnston did against Oklahoma on Saturday.
On OSU’s first drive, the offense sputtered and failed to pick up a first down. Johnston trotted out, with the ball marked at the Buckeye 21-yard line. After he received the ball, the Geelong, Australia, native effectively flipped the field for OSU.
Johnston’s punt was downed at the Oklahoma 11-yard line, netting a 68-yard punt. The booming kick currently is tied for the fifth longest punt this season in all of the NCAA.
The punt pinned Oklahoma deep in its own territory, and limited the Sooners in their play calling. Oklahoma would then punt to the Buckeyes, giving OSU a short field and led to an eventual score.
“I just got a chance to go after one. And when you get a chance to go after one, you try to hit it as far as you can,” Johnston said.
Johnston uses something called the “aussie pooch punt” in order to put the extra distance on the ball. Last season, Johnston used more of a traditional spiral punt, rather than the end-over-end Australian style punt.
According to the graduate senior, the call for a pooch punt always comes from coach Urban Meyer.
“It’s just when he wants it,” Johnston said. “It’s like he knows how far we can hit a pooch and if he wants it from me he calls it.”
For his career, Johnston is averaging 44.7 yards per punt, which is currently tied with former OSU punter Tom Tupa (1984-1987). Tupa went on to have a successful career as a punter and quarterback with seven teams over a span of 16 years.
All time, Johnston ranks fourth in punting yards for the Buckeyes with 7,426 yards for his career. This number will continue to climb throughout the season, as the Australian continues to take on the punting duties for OSU.
Johnston had never played football before arriving in the United States. Although Johnston ranks near the top of all college punters in the entire NCAA, he said he still needs to continue working hard.
“This is my fourth ever year playing. You’re learning every year,” Johnston said. “You can’t say if you’re better or not, but I definitely know a lot more than I did last year.”
Although the Australian native is focused on the punt game, he said he does his best to mentor and teach the younger players, like redshirt freshman long snapper Liam McCullough.
In terms of launching punts that travel well over 60 yards, the occasional breakdown in punt coverage can occur, due to the amount of time the returner has to gauge where the defenders are running. According to Johnston, however, he has more freedom to kick it deep due to the skill of his teammates.
“You don’t out-kick coverage with the way the gunners we got out there (redshirt sophomore) Parris (Campbell), (redshirt sophomore) Terry (McLaurin), those guys, they are ridiculously fast,” Johnston said. “You kinda get yourself a chance if you go up, you know they’re going to get there.”
The 24 year old said it does not seem like he has been with the program and in the country for four years now. The primary punt duties for OSU have been in the hands of Johnston since he arrived on campus in 2013.
During that time, the Buckeyes have enjoyed an average of over 43.0 yards per punt in each of the last three seasons. But Johnston’s time here has been about more than just booming punts and pinning the opponent with the 20-yard line.
“You learn a lot from this program in general. The leadership and that type of thing. The values and that type of thing here,” Johnston said. “You learn a lot from the coaches. You’ve got coach Meyer and coach (Kerry) Coombs and guys like that. You learn a hell of a lot from them.”