BEN HIG­GINS

Sunday Mail - - SPORT -

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

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