ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Michigan punter Blake O’Neill is not only coming from the other end of the world, he also is experiencing both ends of the football spectrum as well.
Growing up in Australia, the vast differences between Australian Rules football and American football is vast. One thing that they both have in common, however, is to kick the ball and kick it hard.
Kicking the ball far has translated well to O’Neill’s game here in the United States.
It’s not as simple as lining up for a kick and watching how far it goes. Another difference between the two sports is how they hold the football. A style that takes some time to master, O’Neill says.
“It does take awhile,” he said. “It depends on each guy but it takes around six months to really get comfortable with the idea of pro-style punting. Now, when I go back from pro-style to punting to, what you’d call, Aussie punting, there’s still a little transition there where you have to sort of stop, check yourself, and go ‘it’s a different type of kick,’ and get into that groove.”
With the recent trend of Australia punters on the rise in common football, it begs the question: Is there a schematic advantage to having an Australian punter compared to the traditional pro-style punter?
There’s some, O’Neill says. But he can also see the advantages to both schemes.
“For one, you move into the launch point, the block point if you will,” O’Neill said. “As far as containing it from a punt return standpoint it’s tougher and also an accuracy thing whether it is when you try to kick inside the 10 or if its kicking across your body, whatever it might be, there’s an advantage there. There’s no doubt there’s an advantage to traditional punting as well which is why we hold that as well in our scheme.”
U-M does have a traditional punter on roster in Kenny Allen. O’Neill has been having fun with Allen as he has been trying to teach him the ways of how to kick an Australian football around during practice.
“It’s actually been fun trying to teach Kenny how to kick an Aussie football,” O’Neill said. “He then has to go through the process I went through trying to kick spirals.”
“He’s good, he’s getting there at least.”