Jamie Keehn is on his second life.
His first one took place in Australia. He was a farm-raised, cattle-driving Aussie who lived, literally, out back and threw the javelin for his country.
His second one takes place in the United States. He’s an odd-speaking foreigner who hates tomatoes — tuh-MOT-toes as his mother calls them — and punts footballs for LSU.
“Of course you’re going to miss home,” Keehn said. “Saying that, I love it here. I don’t sit up at night wanting to be back at Australia or anything like that. I’m enjoying it.”
LSU is enjoying him and his big leg. The No. 22 Tigers (8-4) head into the Music City Bowl against Notre Dame (7-5) with one of the nation’s best punters.
Keehn averaged 45 yards a punt during the regular season. Just six punters nationally had a better average, and only two of those had more punts than Keehn.
He followed a struggling and inconsistent sophomore season with a stellar junior year. Just look at his short punts — the ones that weren’t downed inside the 20-yard line. He had three punts go less than 30 yards this year. Last year, in 25 fewer total punts, he had five go less than 30.
He had 16 punts for 40 or more yards in 2013. This year? Fifty-two.
His average increased four yards, and he ended the regular season sizzling.
Keehn’s last eight punts went for 43 yards or more. He never came close to such a streak last regular season.
What’s been the difference?
He’s been working on mechanics in practice that he struggled with last year, said walk-on kicker Trent Domingue. “He’s definitely much improved,” Domingue said.
Maybe he’s warming up to America, too. Domingue took Keehn on his first shopping trip upon arriving in Baton Rouge — and the U.S. — a couple of years ago.
The two meandered around Wal-Mart — one having issues understanding the other and vice versa.
“He was straight out of Australia,” Domingue said. “He said some things, and I didn’t know what he meant.”
For instance, Keehn referred to a flashlight as “a torch,” Domingue said.
Things have changed.
“He’s gotten the lingo down now,” Domingue said.
Keehn attributes his turnaround to relaxing. As a first-year starting punter last season, Keehn was trying to match his predecessor, Brad Wing, another Aussie-born boomer and former All-American.
“I was trying too hard, out there trying to rip it every time,” Keehn said. “Last six months before the season, I just sat back and realized, ‘Have some fun, enjoy it.’ ”
He’s taken a more Australian approach to it: No worries, mate.
Keehn turned 25 years old in August. He’s believed to be the oldest player on the team. Age and his thick Australia accent separate him from anyone else.
Keehn is from north Queensland, Australia, a region in northeast Australia.
Half of his childhood was spent on his family’s 100-acre cattle farm several miles outside of the region’s main city, Rockhampton. The other half was spent in the city as crew rowing standout who starred in track and field throwing the javelin.
“He lived for sport,” said Alice Keehn, his mother. “He did sport from daylight to dark.”
About a week before Christmas Day, Alice Keehn spoke on the phone from her Australia home. Outside, it was 100 degrees and sunny. It’s the summer in the Southern Hemisphere, and Keehn’s childhood home is one of the hottest regions in the country. It’s subtropical to tropical.
Before the family moved into the city to support Keehn’s sports career, they reared and transported cattle in a rural, country area. How rural? If you think the Keehn family’s farm was large at 100 acres, you’ll be floored by the size of Keehn’s grandparents’ farm: 34,000 acres.
“It’s remote,” Keehn said. “It’s outback as you like to call it.”
By age 10, little Jamie could ride a horse and drive a tractor.
He always had chores around the family’s farm. On horseback at a young age, he’d move cattle from one field to the other. He’d spray weeds, check and secure fences, feed and water steer and help his father transport cattle to the market.
That was the family’s primary source of income: transporting other people’s cattle on what Alice Keehn called “road trains.” These four-deck road trains could transport more than 80 cattle.
Keehn evolved from a cattle-driving 10-year-old to a talented high school graduate who competed nationally for Australia throwing the javelin.
He finished seventh in the World Junior Championships in 2006, but he struggled to make the jump from junior to senior level. It didn’t help that he eventually blew out his shoulder and needed full reconstructive surgery.
He never recovered. Keehn says he hasn’t thrown a javelin in more than four years. His career-high was 231 feet — or about 80 yards.
So what happened after his failed javelin career?
“Took a year off. Played a bit of Australian football, and learned I could kick a football a long way,” he said.
Nathan Chapman, a former Australian footballer who briefly punted for the Green Bay Packers, spotted Keehn one day.
“He said, ‘Why don’t you have a go at college?’ ” Keehn said. “Didn’t know much about it. Started kicking with him, and found out my leg was probably good enough to make it over here.”
Chapman runs Prokick Australia, which creates a simple pathway for young Aussies to play American football at the college and professional levels. Chapman did all of Keehn’s recruiting. He put together tape and spent “hours” on the phone, Keehn said.
“The option came up for LSU,” Keehn said.
The Tigers replaced an Aussie — Wing — with another, and Keehn has started a new life.
He’s a 30-hour trip from his old one in Australia. His visits home once a year in May, and his mother and younger sister, Emily, have made a handful of games over the last two years.
He’s started to fit into America better — from the lingo to the food.
“He hates tomatoes with a passion,” Alice Keehn said. “And everything comes with tomatoes.”
The last time Emily and Alice were in town, Jamie took them eat. Alice looked at the menu confused, and Jamie leaned in, “Mom, let me order for you because you’ll end up with something you don’t want.”