LAFAYETTE — A year after Australia native Daniel Cadona set a Louisiana-Lafayette single-season record for punting average, the Cajuns have returned Down Under for his replacement, and that shouldn’t come as much of a shock.
Cajuns freshman Steven Coutts is one of a growing number of Australians to earn their way onto American campuses with a strong punting leg. That trend has been especially evident in Louisiana, where both LSU and the Cajuns have deployed Australians at the position for the past several years, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.
There are some obstacles Coutts and his countrymen have to overcome — namely mastering a game that is literally foreign to them and exposing their talents to coaches that hold scholarship offers in another continent — and that’s where ProKick Australia helps.
The organization, founded by native Australian Nathan Chapman, harnesses the skills honed by years spent playing soccer and Australian rules football and focuses those skills toward the American game. Coutts and LSU punter Jamie Keehn both trained with ProKick, as did 2013 and 2014 Ray Guy Award winners Tom Hornsby (Memphis) and Tom Hackett (Utah).
The Advocate caught up with Chapman for a short discussion on Coutts, Louisiana and the onrush of Australian punters in the college game.
About the only thing current Cajuns fans know about Steven Coutts is that he hails from the same home land as his predecessor, Daniel Cadona. What stands out about his ability?
Well for me as a coach, Steve had one of the most natural kicking actions from an early stage. He seemed to have a very straight follow through, and he controlled his body really well in the early stages while learning a new technique. He was a real pleasure to train while he was in Melbourne and his local Prokick coach and ex-CFL punter Scott Crough saw him develop surprisingly fast in front of his eyes. To be honest, I hadn’t really seen a guy hit the ball so big with as little coaching. And he really just smiled and went about his business.
How has Coutts’ upbringing in Australia helped him develop the skills needed to punt a football?
Football and kicking is bred into us from such a young age, we often take it a little for granted. It’s the punting in the USA which brings the attention to the actual skill and actually helps us focus on the skill harder.
Louisiana, in particular, has seen a load of Australian punters lately, two of whom — Jamie Keehn (LSU) and Steven Coutts (Louisiana-Lafayette) — worked with Prokick. Is there something about this state that is attractive to Australians?
Well we have Josh Growden as well, who is redshirting this year at LSU and will take over from Jamie Keehn next year. So you could say that, indeed, (LSU coach Les) Miles likes the way we kick, and our initial contact with the Ragin Cajuns was through a coaching connection at LSU. So really, because of that connection, you guys have ended up with one of the greatest talents we have had in our program. The state of Louisiana is a little unknown to most Australians, but to those who talk football, it is one of the most intriguing places on earth.
What is your organization all about, and what factors have made Australians so successful as kickers?
Well we really are looking to give guys the opportunity to get an education in the (United States) and as a by-product of that, the U.S. coaches get some amazing talent that can really belt the leather off the ball. I guess our students have grown up kicking a ball, which to some degree gives us an advantage sometimes. If the coaches like to do other funky things with their schemes on punt, then our guys can do that quite naturally.
How challenging is it for players when they first transition into a sport they’ve never played before? What’s the toughest thing to teach?
You can’t teach 100,000 screaming fans at training, but some of our guys come from leagues where they have played in front of crowds in Australia and can make it somewhat easier. I’d like to think our guys are trained well enough to cope with many scenarios and we aim to have them not perform like rookies when they get to college. We expect the best out of our students from a consistency basis so when it comes to game day, we then expect them to settle down really quickly.
Have you seen American football grow in popularity in Australia thanks to the success Aussies are having in the game?
Most definitely. We now get at least 10 college games a week on ESPN here, so it’s available to us all season long. Some weekends we will have games that actually feature Prokick students playing each other and that has made watching football even that much more enjoyable. It’s also great that the parents of these kids get to see them on TV. It really has come a long way.
Have you seen a growing interest from college coaches?
Very much so. The college coaches are a lot more willing to have discussions, and while I am on my trip to the USA throughout July, in which I will be catching up with Steven Coutts, Jamie Keehn and Josh Growden, the coaches have been very welcoming and inviting when it has come to visiting the campuses. I will be spending three days in Louisiana and I must say, I cannot wait to get there.