Australian punters are changing the NFL, and Mitch Wishnowsky is next

first_imgUtah punter Mitch Wishnowsky (Getty Images)Wishnowsky, a native of Perth, Australia, has all the swings, learned from his years with the Perth Demons of the West Australian Football League. However, a few surgeries on his left shoulder meant his goal of playing in Australia’s top professional league was finished. In 2013, Wishnowsky worked as a glazier — someone who installs glass — while playing Australian flag football.”Eventually, it was football or work,” he said. “At that point, I felt like the professional ship had sailed and I wasn’t going to go professional. I had to make a life decision. I had to make a living doing something, and it wasn’t going to be Australian football. I had to make a smart decision. That’s when it really hit me. I had always dreamt about being a professional athlete and it was like, ‘This is it. You’re a glazier.’ That hurt.”Wishnowsky met a coach named Craig Wilson, who knew Chapman and Prokick’s kicking coach, John Smith. At that point, Wishnowsky made an audacious gamble by moving to Melbourne and trying a sport he knew nothing about. He spent mornings lifting weights and punting with Chapman and nights working at a pub to help pay the bills.”That’s where it all started,” he said. “‘This is my last chance.’ I had bought a house with my best mate; we sold the house, which funded junior college. I moved to Melbourne and was like, ‘This is my last chance. Give it your all.'”A year later, Chapman sent film to a few coaches, including Kyle Whittingham. The Utah coach liked what he saw and offered Wishnowsky a scholarship. But first, he had to get his associate’s degree. So he spent 2014 punting at Santa Barbara (Calif.) Community College. In 2016, he arrived at Utah and promptly won the Ray Guy Award as the nation’s top punter. He was a finalist for that award in 2017 and 2018.Now, Wishnowsky’s professional dreams are about to come true, even if it is half a world away and in a different sport.”I always dreamt about it,” he said. “I knew there was a chance. I remember speaking to people and people were like, ‘You can get an education and get it paid for’ and that sort of stuff. But even people who care about me were like, ‘I don’t think you should go in with the intentions of going to the NFL. It’s a pretty farfetched sort of dream.’ I always wanted it and I always thought that I could maybe do it, but it is a bit surreal being in this situation and having teams work me out and things like that.” (Getty Images) When Nathan Chapman watched Seahawks rookie punter Michael Dickson earn All-Pro honors last season, he could not help but wonder about what might have been.Instead, Chapman will have to settle for his role in revolutionizing the punting position. (Prokick Australia) Nathan Chapman, pictured with the Packers in 2004 (Photo courtesy of Nathan Chapman/Prokick Australia)Chapman is doing just that. He founded Prokick Australia with the intention of turning Aussie football players into American college punters. According to the Prokick website, 100 of its pupils have earned U.S. college scholarships worth $26 million.From that group, Dickson of the Seahawks, Cameron Johnston of the Eagles and Jordan Berry of the Steelers punted in the NFL last season. Mitch Wishnowsky was an All-American at Utah and is considered the best punting prospect in the 2019 NFL Draft. He was one of seven Prokick grads in the Pac-12 Conference alone in 2018. About 50 punters are on Division I scholarship, Chapman said.Why are Australians taking over this phase of the game?”While Americans grow up wanting to throw the ball, we grow up trying to kick 60-yard goals,” Wishnowsky said in a phone interview from Salt Lake City, Utah, where he was preparing for pre-draft workouts with teams. “We’ve done it from a young age.”Sure, the techniques are slightly different, but the swing of your leg is pretty much the same. We have that muscle memory drilled into us from a young age, where I feel like punting is almost something like, they’re wide receivers and they punt and they’re like, ‘I’m actually really good at this.’ So, it’s later on that they focus on punting and realize that’s what they’re good at.” In Australian football, players are running and kicking. In American football, a punter simply is standing 15 yards behind the snapper, catching the ball and punting. That’s an added advantage for Chapman’s compatriots, he says.”There’s a trust,” Chapman said. “It’s that confidence of having the ball in their hands. Growing up playing Australian rules football allows us to feel confident with the ball in our hands and people running at us. Because we have an ability to adapt to a situation — run, kick on the run or change our body angle but still get the kick away. It takes us away from that catch, two-step, kick it and, if anything out of the ordinary happens, the punter just continues to do his job. Our guys have a little bit more game awareness. If we feel pressure before it’s there, we can make an adjustment and still get the kick away. That confidence that we have with the ball flows onto the coaches.”That confidence was not always there from American special-teams coaches. Chapman played eight professional seasons of Australian football before deciding to give the NFL a try. His chance with the Packers came at age 28. His leg strength was without question. Everything else, however, was up for question. Even simple things, such as how Chapman caught the ball and his steps before kicking, were changed for no other reason than that is just the way it was done.NFL DRAFT PROSPECTS:Big board of top 100 overall playersDuring the early years at Prokick, the challenge for Chapman was opening coaches’ minds that it was OK to be different and, in fact, better to be different. The “Aussie kick,” for instance, has changed the game.For most of football history, when an offense’s drive stalled just outside scoring position, the punter came in and either tried to kick the ball a mile high or kick it out of bounds inside the 20-yard line. Punt returners, in turn, were told to stand at the 10. If the ball went over the returner’s head, he should let it hit the ground and bounce into the end zone for a touchback that would give his team the ball at the 20. The Aussie kick, by contrast, is akin to a golfer with a pitching wedge because the ball’s backward rotation means it typically will hit the ground and stop there or bounce back a bit.Now, if a returner stands at the 10 and the ball hits at the 5, the offense is probably going to be stuck with the ball around the 5.”In the NFL and even college,” Chapman said, “it’s, ‘How can somebody who’s never played the game do a better job than what we’ve seen?’ Coaches didn’t open their view of how something could be done better. Your perception of what the benchmark was needed to be changed. Slowly, with the incorporation of a couple different kicks, we showed that it could be done a different way and done in a better way.”At the end of the day, we could be really skillful, but if you make us kick the way you want us to kick, it becomes a little unnatural. If you allow us to kick with our normal style and ability but within your framework, then we can get a lot more done, and then the consistency’s better. It’s just bridging the gap between, ‘You must do this, you must step like this, catch like this and kick it here.’ We might go, ‘That’s great.’ But it’s a baseball pitcher being told he has to throw underarm. He’s still throwing it, but it’s different.” The success of the Aussie kick showed American coaches that different could mean better. In the United States, punters were directed to kick booming, spiraling kicks. Chapman’s pupils can do that, too. But they can do much more.Because of Aussie players’ years of experience of running and kicking, they can aim right but kick left or kick the ball with accuracy to a specific spot on the field, all with the goal of limiting or outright eliminating the returner from the equation.”It used to be kick it really high,” Chapman said. “What we’re doing now is saying, ‘Why kick it to the returner at all?’ You don’t want him to have it, so don’t kick it to him. If you’ve got the ability to put it where you want it, then you see where he’s standing and kick it the other way.”If the ball doesn’t need to spiral to go 45 yards, why do you ask us to spiral? Even though we do spiral, if it’s really windy, let me tell you, it’s really, really hard to spiral a ball. If the ball doesn’t spin well or look good, the coach and the crowd think that you’re not very good. The physics of a ball going up in the air and turning over and spiraling down perfectly is all well and good in a dome, and it’s all well and good when there’s not any wind. But if the wind’s blowing from left to right and across your body or in your face and you’ve got to kick the ball nose up and the wind blows on the fat part of the ball, it won’t turn over. It doesn’t mean you’re not very good. It just means it’s physics. So, in that instance, I’m just like a golfer. ‘What swing, what club and what am I going to use to get the result I need?'”center_img (University of Utah) “I absolutely know that I had the ability to play,” he said. “No one taught me how to kick a football. I had to learn when I got there. When I got there, I was told in preseason to change the way I caught it and change my steps. Going into training camp, I was being told I needed to look a different way. ‘Let’s try to catch it like this. Let’s do this footwork.’ That takes away from your kicks. But, what I will say, if that hadn’t happened, who knows where I would be now, and we would not have created 120 guys with millions of dollars’ worth of college scholarships.”So, does it bother me? Part of me — the competitive part of me — says I knew I could do it. I feel like I could still do it now. Did that all happen for the greater good of helping other people? Well, so be it. I’m not the kind to look back over my shoulder. I might have played one year and been really bad at it (laughs) and never get another go and walked away and took up baseball. Who knows? Every now and again I think about it. I would have loved to have spent more time at it.”But if you’re ahead of your time …” (Getty Images) Utah punter Mitch Wishnowsky, left, and head coach Kyle Whittingham (Getty Images)Wishnowsky is one of Chapman’s latest success stories. A handful of years ago, Chapman had to reach out to schools about his top prospects. Now, it’s the schools who are reaching out to Chapman, the revolutionary.”Gradually, as time would have it, we’ve now put 120 guys through college,” Chapman said. “The guys are now coming to the pro ranks with experience. The guys have played at huge college programs, so they get the opportunity to display the skills that they’ve got. We had to start slow. You can’t expect to change it all at once. If you’re a special teams coach and you’ve done something a certain way for 50 years and it pays the bills and you’ve got a job, why would you change? You let somebody else make the change. If it works, then you look at it. We understood that it wasn’t going to be easy.”Now, if you don’t have a guy with that skill-set, you’re behind the eight-ball. There’s four Aussie guys punting in the league at the moment, and obviously we think Mitch will be drafted this year and we’ve got a steady flow of players coming out every year.”LASTEST NFL DRAFT RUMORS:Raiders like Murray | Bosa to 49ers?Every once in a while, Chapman ponders what might have been. What if he hadn’t been wrestling with his visa? What if the Packers’ coaches had not messed with his technique? What if they had not drafted Sander? What if he were allowed a few night’s sleep before a workout with the Bengals instead of being forced to perform with jet-lagged legs?Those what-if questions don’t last long, though. NFL MOCK DRAFT 2019:Giants begin rebuild; Packers go DA veteran of Australian rules football, Chapman signed with the Packers in March 2004. Ultimately, he never had a chance.”I typically wasn’t around to train with the team because I didn’t have my visa signed off on, so they didn’t want me doing any stuff actively with the team until that happened,” Chapman said in a recent phone interview. “A lot of those minicamp practices, I had to do stuff off to the side, which made it harder for me to learn the game. I basically learned the game at training camp.”By then, it was too late. A month after the Packers signed Chapman, they used a third-round pick on B.J. Sander.”They were paying him a million bucks, so he was going to be the guy,” Chapman said.Chapman had a couple other NFL opportunities before returning home to Australia. While his NFL resume consisted of only three preseason games, he learned two things. First, he loved the sport and wanted to be part of it. Second, the tried-and-true way of punting the football was not the best way.”I knew there was a better way for guys to come in more prepared so more guys would get an opportunity, because I knew we would eventually change the game,” Chapman said.last_img read more

Sunni, Shiite expatriates band together in exile

first_img“There are mixed weddings, almost every week,” she said, adding that she attended one last week between a Sunni woman and a Shiite man from a prominent family. “Nobody at the party felt it was strange, or questioned their marriage,” she said. In Damascus, the home of Sundus al-Dulaimi, a 50-year-old Sunni from Anbar province, reflects the spirit which Iraqis seem to have kept alive outside their ravaged country. Al-Dulaimi was hosting four members of a Shiite family. In June, she opened her doors to Kurdish friends, she said. Iraqis have several explanations for the explosion of sectarian hatred back home. Some accuse the Americans of setting Iraq’s communities against one another in a divide-and-rule strategy. Others point to the role of al-Qaida in Iraq – whose suicide bombings targeted Shiite civilians – and the Shiite militias that took vengeance on Sunnis simply because of their sect. “Even in Baghdad, it is the government and the militias who are behind these disputes,” Adnan said. “We hear that there are many mixed Sunni-Shiite marriages back home.”160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREGame Center: Chargers at Kansas City Chiefs, Sunday, 10 a.m.Back in Baghdad, “being Sunni or Shiite is an issue that a lot depends on – including your life,” said Saad Kadhem, a Shiite from the Iraqi capital. “The situation is different when you are out, because people see things differently. But inside Iraq, people are still blinded by hatred and grudges they carry against one another.” The phenomenon is not unique to Iraqis. A decade ago in the Balkans, Serbs and Muslims would kill each other on the front lines around Sarajevo but hang out together in exile in Germany or Austria – far removed from the hatreds back home. In Syria, Jordan and other countries with large Iraqi refugee communities, Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds mingle and socialize – rekindling a bond of nationhood that the violence back home threatens to destroy. “The situation in Iraq didn’t affect us, Iraqis living in Jordan,” said Leila Adnan, a Sunni Muslim Iraqi housewife who fled to Jordan in 2003. “We socialize together, we exchange invitations to wedding parties and other social events.” She said Iraqi Sunnis and Shiites in Jordan still marry across the sectarian divide. DAMASCUS, Syria – A dozen Iraqi men – Sunnis and Shiites alike – sat around a table in a Damascus restaurant, singing, drinking and sharing a camaraderie all but impossible in the sectarian killing fields back home. “We can certainly choose our religious beliefs. But we have to realize the inevitable – that eventually we have to share everything in order to live in peace,” said Salam Mohammed, a 34-year-old Sunni from Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit. More than 2 million Iraqis have fled their homeland to escape Sunni-Shiite reprisal killings. Once they reach the safety of Syria and other countries, many Iraqis shed sectarian bitterness and seek support from fellow countrymen regardless of religious sect. last_img read more