Australian punter Haydon Whitehead fitting in fine at Indiana

It wasn’t a typical recruitment.

Of course, Haydon Whitehead wouldn’t know anything about the typical college football recruiting process.

Indiana’s recruitment of Whitehead, a 22-year-old punter from Melbourne, Australia, started with a series of Skype video chats last year. There was one with former IU coach Kevin Wilson, another with then-defensive coordinator Tom Allen and yet another with special teams quality control assistant Jeff McInerney.

The process continued with an official visit to Bloomington last December, a trip that doubled as Whitehead’s first journey to the United States.

“It was a fair way to fly for a 42-hour visit or whatever it was,” Whitehead said. “I think I was on the plane longer than I was actually here.”

But it was time well spent for all parties. Whitehead found an American school where he could continue learning the craft of punting, and Indiana found a specialist worthy of a scholarship, a punter who through two games appears capable of becoming one of the nation’s best.

Last week, Whitehead was added to the watch list for the Ray Guy Award, which honors the nation’s top college punter. Through two games, Whitehead is averaging 42.1 yards on 16 punts, with a long of 56 yards. He’s placed seven punts inside the 20-yard line and four inside the 10. Opponents have returned merely four of his punts for a total of 27 yards.

“He’s one of the hardest working specialists I’ve ever been around,” said Allen, now Indiana’s head coach. “As a matter of fact, we have to hold him back. If he doesn’t have the kind of day he wants, he’ll be out here practicing at night. I have to go out there and say, ‘You’ve kicked enough.’ He’s a very, very hard working young man.”

Whitehead played Australian Rules Football for 15 years and only recently developed an interest in the American game within the past four years. He saw his brother play quarterback in a small club league in Melbourne and decided to give the sport a try.

“I can’t throw a ball, and I’m not very fast or strong,” Whitehead said. “So the only position I could really play was punter. I thought with an Australian football background, I’d give it a crack.”

In Melbourne, Whitehead trained at Prokick Australia, which has produced the past four Ray Guy winners, including all three finalists in 2016. Allen has connection to Prokick, having recruited through the academy at previous coaching stops.

“We’ll keep those Australians coming,” Allen said at his weekly radio show two weeks ago.

Whitehead has found his transition both to life in the U.S. and American football without complication.

On the field, his rugby-style punting uses almost exactly the same mechanics as he relied on back home. He can also punt the ball with both feet, though his left foot is preferred.

“Australian football is a lot more running, and it’s kind of like soccer in the sense you’re running the whole time and there’s no real breaks in the game,” Whitehead said. “So it’s been nice to get over here and just sort of have one kick, run on and run off every now and again.”

That is, when Whitehead actually remembers to take the field.

So far, he’s only had one such lapse. It came during the Ohio State game, the first football game — at any level — that Whitehead had appeared in. At one point, Whitehead lost track of downs and did not immediately take the field with the punt crew.

”I knew he was nervous,” Allen said. “We had one play — it wasn’t funny at the time, but it is a little bit now. We ran out to punt the ball, and he didn’t run out. He’s standing there, I look, and I’m like, ‘Where’s the punter?’ He’s standing right there, two feet away from me, and I yell, ‘Get out there!’”

Whitehead admits that the pre-game buildup and hype for the Ohio State opener was nerve-wracking, especially for his family members who traveled from Melbourne to Bloomington to watch his debut.

“It was my sister and my aunt’s first time to the States,” Whitehead said. “My dad had only been here once before, but they had obviously never seen a college football game, let alone the Ohio State game. They said it was an awesome experience. I think they were more overwhelmed by it than I was, because, in a sense, I kind of knew how big it was going to be, but they didn’t really have any idea. They said it was awesome. They loved it.”

Inside Indiana’s locker room, Whitehead’s new teammates are also taking to him.

He’s a popular guy, particularly because his fellow Hoosiers enjoy his accent.

“Everyone wants to hear him talk,” Allen said. “He says ‘mate’ a lot. He calls everybody ‘mate.’ He calls his shoes boots, not cleats. They call them boots. That’s not what I picture when I think of our cleats. He’s a great kid, and I’ll tell you what. He works so hard, and he’s such a detailed guy for his craft.”

Outside of football, Whitehead is enjoying life in Bloomington. He says the biggest difference between Australia and the U.S. are the meal portions.

“I’m used to it now,” Whitehead said. “Whereas if I still send (friends and family) a photo of a plate of food that I ordered at a restaurant, they’re a bit taken aback.”

Whitehead could have a few more years to enjoy Indiana cuisine.

Although Whitehead is listed as a redshirt sophomore, Allen said recently that he expects Whitehead will have four years of eligibility at Indiana because his previous school in Australia didn’t offer American football.

Indiana will have to complete an appeal process with the NCAA. Allen, however, expects the Hoosiers will have Whitehead for three additional years after this season.

“We’re so thrilled he’s with us,” Allen said.

6 comments

  1. It is really good to see IU punting and kicking game getting high priority. This is a T.A. strength that he understands this and is motivated to have high quality in this area.

  2. Great story for this young man and for IU Football. I laughed when I read the comment about the food portions served in America. As for him having four years of eligibility, does that imply that this is, academically speaking, his first year of college? Given that the young man is 22 years old, I assumed he had some higher education in Australia and that he’s here to either finish his undergraduate degree or obtain a graduate degree. Regardless, if he continues to improve his kicking skills, he’ll be punting for an NFL team within four years.

  3. Chris Weinke was 28 when he won the Heisman. I thought Carolina was nuts to draft a 29 year old rookie in the first round. I was right but not because of his age. It was because he was terrible.

  4. I believe Brandon Weeden was 29 when he was drafted in the first round by Cleveland. He opted for baseball out of High School, and when that didn’t work out, he went back to college and had a good run as QB for Oklahoma State.

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