It’s difficult for anybody to move across the country to pursue a college education, let alone travel halfway around the world to play a sport you barely know. But that’s exactly what Ohio State punter Jesse Mirco did when he arrived on campus in January 2021.
“Just moving so far away from all your friends and family (is hard),” Mirco said during his media availability on Wednesday evening. “You can call each other these days, but it’s different when they’re not around the corner. It’s not easy to just stop over or even a short flight. It’s like a couple of days of travel, so that’s probably the biggest (challenge).”
Mirco isn’t alone in his journey, though, as half of the Big Ten’s 14 teams have a punter that was produced by Prokick Australia, a Melbourne-based program that has helped nearly 200 players earn a scholarship to play college football.
That includes Illinois’ Hugh Robertson, Indiana’s James Evans, Iowa’s Tory Taylor, Minnesota’s Mark Crawford, Purdue’s Jack Ansell and Rutgers’ Adam Korsak, who Mirco will match wits with this weekend.
“We all grew up playing Australian football, so you punt the ball to pass the ball to each other,” Mirco said. “We grew up kicking a ball rather than throwing a ball, so it’s just natural, I guess.”
Mirco likened Australian Rules Football to a mix of rugby and soccer, as it's a full-contact sport without helmets and pads and includes a ball that moves freely throughout the game. He played semi-professionally before learning how to punt in just four months.
“Kicking was something I was always good at and I always liked watching the NFL on TV,” Mirco said. “I was here on vacation in 2019 and watched a couple of guys I know play at some other schools, and I was just like, ‘Oh, that looks fun and like something I think I can do. Let’s give it a go and see what happens.’”
That’s where former Ohio State punter Cameron Johnston, who is also a product of Prokick Australia, comes into the equation. Now in his sixth season in the NFL after playing for the Buckeyes from 2013-16, he helped guide Mirco to Columbus.
“Cam’s been great,” Mirco said. “He told me that it’s a special place here and it’s a winning culture and stuff like that. He lives here in the offseason, so I get to work with him a lot and it definitely helps me in my game learning from him. He’s probably one of the best in the NFL, so it’s definitely something I appreciate.”
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