A Conversation with Jets punter Ben Graham

The sound heard at the New York Jets training complex is the boom of punts taking off the foot of punter Ben Graham, an Australian Rules import signed by the Jets this offseason.

How are you doing adjusting to American football?

Ben Graham: I'm doing pretty well so far. It's been a long journey, it started eight years ago in 1997. Now that I've been here since March I've learned a hell of a lot, and I'm still learning every day. Yesterday I had a good day punting, today wasn't so good. We're five sessions into 30 days of it, so that's all new. But I've been playing a professional sport for the last 12 years so I know what it's about when it comes to pressure and responsibility.

How is your experience in Australian Football League (AFL) helping you in the NFL?

Ben Graham: Australian Football is the most popular sport. From four or five year olds everyone grows up kicking the ball. So the ability itself comes naturally, the technique had to be refined a little bit. Darren Bennett came over originally and had a great career and proved that it can be done. Mat McBriar, with Dallas, he's been there for two years. I'm sure you'll see more Australians come over and give it a shot.

Aside from punting with the Jets the last few months, your family has done a lot of exploring around the area. What can you tell us about that?

Ben Graham: Yeah, there has been a lot. Before my wife and kids came over I bought a car to explore for myself so that when they got here I could be their tour guide. We weren't sure in the short term how long I was going to be here so we wanted to make sure we got in as much as we could. We had a three week break before training camp, so we drove to Boston, we went and saw the Lion King, we went on a boat around Manhattan on a stinking hot day. I've had some unique Australian experiences too. [The NBA] invited myself and my wife, on behalf of Andrew Bogut, to the NBA draft. So we went to that and the after party and went out with Andrew. We also saw Russell Crowe at the Statue of Liberty. Never a dull moment.

How is the ball different in Australian Rules Football?

Ben Graham: The (AFL) ball is slightly different. It's made of different leather. It's designed for kicking, where as this ball is designed for throwing. But it's really not that different. The sweet spot on the ball is very similar. In our sport we pass the ball down field by foot or by hand so we have to be accurate in short and long distances to get the ball and our team downfield as quick as possible. Hang time isn't quite necessary, unless you are shooting for goal. You want the ball to travel as far as possible. My longest kick would be about 95 yards. Yeah, that was my longest kick. From where I kicked it to where it landed; from where I kicked it to where the opposition player marked it, so it traveled in the air for 95 yards.

How are you progressing as a holder?

Ben Graham: Well, I'd never done it before, but to play our sport we have to have good hands. Once I learned the technique I think it only took a couple of weeks before they said we don't have to worry about that side of it anymore. I get as much as I can out of practice. I like to work with Mike Nugent because he's a perfectionist that likes it on the spot, tilted right, every time.

It must be different for you to walk around in public and not get recognized?

Ben Graham: It's great actually. It's something we've really enjoyed. But there's still been a few times. We went to lunch at Bubba Gump Shrimp and the first thing we hear is a guy yelling, ‘Oh look everyone there's Ben Graham.' And it was so weird because it hadn't happened at all for about three months.

What is it like for you wearing all the equipment?

Ben Graham: When they first handed me my helmet and pads I jokingly asked, ‘Do I have to wear these?' But without being up close to the game, television is so far away, is that you don't appreciate how physically fast and tough, and strong and how much more they can impact the body because they have got shoulder pads and helmets.

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