Australian punter takes kicking skills to SBCC’s football field

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Daniel Feldtkeller

Vaquero’s punter Joel Whitford, 22, has moved a long way from his hometown in Neerim South, Australia, to play for the Santa Barbara City College football team, Friday afternoon, Oct. 2, at La Playa Stadium. Before coming to Santa Barbara, Whitford trained with Prokick Australia in kicking and punting; this season is his first experience playing American football.

LANDON HUNT, Sports Editor

Despite never having played American football, Australian City College punter Joel Whitford is here to do what SBCC’s last two punters have done—sign a Division 1 scholarship.

A native of Neerim in southern Australia,  Whitford, 22, played Australian football for most of his life.But then he found Prokick Australia, a program that trains young Australians in punting and kicking until they can earn a scholarship to play American football.

It’s the same program that produced Tim Gleeson and Mitch Wishnowsky, the last two City College punters.

“You basically just get as well prepared as you possibly can to come play American football without actually playing a game,” Whitford said.

In City College’s second game of the season, Whitford changed the game with two of his punts. One was a 55-yard punt out of his own endzone and another that was downed inside Allan Hancock’s one yard line.

“Mitch was an expert at that,” said head coach Craig Moropoulos about the punt downed inside the one. “And Joel is pretty darn good himself.”

This was just his second American football game ever after making the transition from Australian football. Since then Whitford has stayed impressive, including a 60 yard bomb against West LA.

Vaquero’s punter Joel Whitford (No. 88) comes all the way from Neerim South, Australia, to play for the City College football team, Friday afternoon, Oct. 2, at La Playa Stadium in Santa Barbara. Whitford is ambidextrous and punts 10 to 15 yards less with his left foot in contrast with his right.
Daniel Feldtkeller
Vaquero’s punter Joel Whitford (No. 88) comes all the way from Neerim South, Australia, to play for the City College football team, Friday afternoon, Oct. 2, at La Playa Stadium in Santa Barbara. Whitford is ambidextrous and punts 10 to 15 yards less with his left foot in contrast with his right.

In American football Whitford stands back about 15 yards to punt and just about the entire opposing team rushes him to block it. Whitford said one of the hardest things he had to get used to was all the pressure a punter is under from the opposing team.

Growing up Whitford spent much of his time playing sports, but during his last couple of years in high school he started to focus more on football.

In 2012 Whitford finished high school and moved to Geelong where he played for their reserve team in the Victorian Football League. But his season was shut down early with a torn ACL, prompting him to take a year away from the sport.

In 2014 he began to play again but lost interest due to his injuries. Then Whitford met Cameron Johnston, a player who introduced him to the Prokick Australia program. After Prokick, Johnston would go on to sign a scholarship at Ohio State where in 2014 he led the Big Ten in punting and won a national championship.

“He was the first person I knew that came over to do punting,” Whitford said. “And he’s been as successful as you can be.”

After seeing the success of Johnston and others, Whitford decided to give it a shot. He trained with his coach Nathan Chapman, who runs the program along with John Smith. Chapman worked with Whitford twice a week for about a year and that’s when Chapman began helping Whitford find a school.

Whitford says that the program has connections to schools around the country, but Santa Barbara and San Francisco are some of their favorite places to send athletes. When Whitford came here for a tryout, he fell in love with the city that now often reminds him of home.

Before Whitford arrived, Wishnowsky contacted him and helped set him up with a place to stay, with himself. Now the two live together and according to Whitford, Wishnowsky took him under his wing.

Now that Whitford is here, he just wants to focus on his goal of moving on to a Division 1 school where he plans to study architecture.

“Now it’s about having the best season I can in a program that really suits me as a punter,” Whitford said. “And it’s in a place that I really enjoy living in.”