GETTING paid half a million dollars to kick a football four or five times a match sounds like a dream job.
It is for Australian Cam Johnston, but don’t be fooled. The life of an NFL punter comes with high pressure and big expectations.
Having forged a path from Geelong to Philadelphia Eagles, via Melbourne Football Club’s rookie list, Johnston has made an instant impact with the Super Bowl champions.
In a cut-throat industry in which players can be here one day, gone the next, Johnston is making every kick count.
“It has been fun,” he said. “It’s great to be in the NFL after not making it last year. To break in this year and string some games together has been nice.”
And why wouldn’t Johnston enjoy his job? He’s arguably the NFL’s No.1 punter, battling fellow Aussie, Seattle’s Michael Dickson, for the mantle. Both are rookies.
Johnston, 26, leads the league in punting average (48.7 yards per punt) — tied with Dickson — and is second in the crucial stat of net average, which measures how far an opposition returns each punt.
“The biggest thing is doing your job for the team ... punt the best I can punt,” Johnston said. “The numbers will follow if you do the job for the team the right way.”
Not only is Johnston doing the job with his boot, he’s laying big tackles, taking down elusive New Orleans star Alvin Kamara recently.
“Yeah, that was funny,” he said. “It was a bit of fun ... it was my first real shot at making a tackle and it opened up well. It was good to make a tackle.”
Given his Australian rules background, it should come as no surprise to Johnston’s coaches in Philadelphia that he can lay crunching tackles.
Having come through the famed Geelong Falcons talent factory, Johnston was drafted by Melbourne at pick No. 63 in the 2011 rookie draft, just a few picks after premiership players Jason Johannisen (pick 39) and Jeremy McGovern (44).
The Geelong fan hasn’t forgotten his roots, keeping a close eye on the Cats from the US, and the influx of countrymen coming into US football.
“I watch Geelong’s games,” he said. “The sports science guy here, he’s an Australian as well and he’s an Adelaide fan, so we’re always watching and chatting about it.
“Nathan Chapman, who runs Prokick, he’s done such a good job, the amount of guys coming over now, it’s great.
“You’ve got some ex-AFL dudes — Arryn Siposs at Auburn, Ben Lennon’s about to go to Utah and Ben Griffiths going to USC — it’s great to see guys like that go down the pathway.”
Johnston was delisted by the Demons after a year, but a little more than 12 months later he was on a scholarship at college football powerhouse Ohio State.
A member of the Buckeyes’ 2014 NCAA National Championship team, Johnston can count NFL superstars Ezekiel Elliott, Michael Thomas, Joey Bosa and Eli Apple as his teammates.
There was a surprising reunion after an Eagles clash against Elliott’s Dallas Cowboys, with the ace running back embracing Johnston like a long-lost brother.
“He’s a really good guy,” Johnston said.
“I hadn’t seen him in a while. He’s having a great season. He’s a great player.”
Cam Johnston in action for Philadelphia Eagles against Tampa Bay and (inset) playing for Geelong Falcons and with a Sherrin during his time at St Joseph’s Football Club in Geelong. Main picture: PHILADELPHIA EAGLES