Cal has landed a punting prospect from Melbourne, who only gave American football a try after the COVID-19 pandemic dented his passion for Australian Rules Football and cricket.
Ethan Baxter — a 20-year-old who hails from the town of Shepparton, about 110 miles northeast of Melbourne in the state of Victoria — committed to the Bears on Thursday, and plans to be in Berkeley by Tuesday.
He projects as the Bears' backup punter this season, behind starter Jamieson Sheahan, (featured in cover photo) also a native of Australia.
In an interview with the Shepparton News, Baxter expressed his delight at the opportunity in his future.
“It’s obviously incredible, it's pretty unbelievable,” Baxter said. “For me growing up in Shepp you only see it in the movies so it doesn’t sink in at all, I think until I’m actually there, even then it probably won’t sink in.
"It’s totally unbelievable that because I can kick a football I can get this opportunity.”
At 6-foot-3, 175 pounds, Baxter had no other scholarship offers, according to the Rivals recruiting website.
Described by his local newspaper as a “former Notre-Dame school captain, ex-Central Park-St Brendan’s opening bowler (cricket) and previous Australian Football League draft hopeful,” Baxter was clearly adept at both sports.
Having played Aussie Rules Football for the Murray Bushrangers and Victoria Country as a junior player, then with the Shepparton Bears, Baxter hoped to be drafted by the AFL in 2020.
Baxter was preparing for the draft in Melbourne but once COVID hit he returned home to train alone.
“So obviously that was a bit of a rough year for everyone,” he told the newspaper. “I kind of had a lot of time to think about what I really wanted to do and kind of lost interest a little bit in the AFL side of things because I was by myself doing it all."
Instead, he reached out to ProKick Australia, which helps introduce local athletes to American football punting and connects them with collegiate teams. Current Cal punter, senior Sheahan, and his predecessor, Steven Coutts, both came from Australia and prepped at ProKick.
Baxter seems to have naturally taken to punting.
“Within about 10 minutes both of the coaches had called me and said, ‘You seem like pretty much the perfect fit for it,’ and then I haven’t looked back since then,” he said. “It’s kind of like it’s meant to be, I’ve found the thing I really enjoy doing.”
Baxter said he played cricket with Sheahan’s younger brother.
“It’s crazy how everything links up,” Baxter said, “and (Jamieson is) in his last year at California Berkeley so I’ll be his back-up this year.”
Cover photo of Cal punter Jamieson Sheahan by Stan Szeto, USA Today
Follow Jeff Faraudo of Cal Sports Report on Twitter: @jefffaraudo