Punting Down Under

Graduate student Matthew Hayball is one of 11 Australian punters in the SEC to come through ProKick Australia

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – In the ever-changing environment of college football, a new trend has sprouted up that has seen an influx of Australian punters in the Football Bowl Subdivision. Vanderbilt is no exception to the changing tides, as graduate student Matthew Hayball, a native of West Adelaide, Australia, has been punting for the Commodores over the last two seasons.

The number of Australian-born punters has grown exponentially in college football over the last 15 years. There are roughly 75 Australian punters on FBS rosters this season, according to the New York Times, while 61 of the 133 FBS teams have an Aussie-born punter.

It’s no coincidence that the rise of Australian punters correlates with the evaluation of ProKick Australia, a program that was co-founded in 2007 by Nathan Chapman and John Smith. ProKick teaches Australians how to punt American football with the hopes of landing a scholarship at a college in the United States. Hayball is one of several ProKick alums who credits the program for helping them get to the highest level of college football.

“I reached out to ProKick to learn more about the in-pocket style of punting,” recalls Hayball. “It took a year to learn a different style of punting. ProKick really does a great job at teaching you how to punt after years of kicking on the run with a different-shaped ball. It can be a bit humbling when you start.”

Entrance into ProKick requires at least a 40-yard punt, 4.5-second hang time and an invitation. According to Chapman and Smith, about 90 percent of the program’s “graduates” get NCAA scholarships.

“We meet a couple of times a week. It could be as simple as learning the rules of the game or learning to catch the ball from the snap,” said Hayball. “Each year in June we come to the United States to see other guys who have come from ProKick to help us out and give advice as we’re trying to get signed to colleges.”

Even though American football isn’t as widely popular among Aussies as rugby, Australian football, soccer or netball, the NFL still garners an audience Down Under. Though most regular season NFL games are shown too early in the morning for most Australians to watch, there is a strong contingency of football fans that watch the Monday night and Thursday night games, along with the Super Bowl.

That is how Hayball got his first taste of American football.

“Growing up in Australia a lot of people play rugby or Australian-rules football, but I followed American sports for years and really enjoyed watching the NFL,” expressed Hayball. “I like the Packers because the first time I watched an NFL game was the last time they won a Super Bowl. That was my first introduction to American football and I’ve been a fan ever since.”

In his second year at Vanderbilt after transferring from Florida Atlantic, Hayball is one of 11 Aussie-born punters in the SEC this season. All but three SEC schools carry a punter from Down Under on the roster in 2023, a vast difference from 2009 when ProKick sent their program’s first three punters to America to play college football.

He has been no stranger to success at Vanderbilt. Hayball began the 2023 season by being selected as All-SEC third team by the league’s coaches and was named to the Ray Guy Award Watch List.

Heading into Week 5 of the college football season, Hayball leads all of FBS in average yards per punt at 50.9 yards. His 47.4 net yards per punt leads the SEC and is second-best in the country. He booted the third-longest punt of the 2023 college football season when he launched a 71-yard kick punt in Vanderbilt’s season-opening win against Hawai’i. He has also landed a total of 10 kicks inside the 20-yard line.

His performance against Kentucky earned him national acclaim, as he was named the Ray Guy Punter of the Week back on Sept. 26. The graduate student punted seven times for an average of 50.3 yards against the Wildcats, with five of the seven punts pinning UK inside its own 20-yard line. Kentucky did not return a punt in the game, resulting in a net average of 50.3.

It marked the highest punting average by a Vandy punter in a game since 2002 (minimum five punts). Hayball now owns three of the top seven games in punting average by a Commodore since 1996.

With a larger fraternity of Australian punters playing college football in the United States nowadays, there is a larger sense of community among the ProKick alumni in college football. In fact, both punters in last season’s national championship game were from Australia and seven of the last 10 Ray Guy Award winners, given to the nation’s most outstanding collegiate punter, have been Aussies.

“I think we all take great pride in coming from ProKick Australia,” Hayball said. “There were a lot of guys before us that made this all possible. Everyone who has come through ProKick is always willing to give advice to the next generation. I’ve reached out to guys who went through the program and they’re always willing to help. I’m always willing to pass along what I learned. We’re a tight group, but we love to see each other succeed. It’s great to see so many Australians punting at a high level this season. We’re always checking in on each other and want to see everyone do well.”

The Australian has only a handful of games left in his collegiate career. He doesn’t envision his punting days ending in Nashville with the Commodores. Hayball has aspirations of reaching the NFL and through his experiences gained at Vanderbilt and ProKick Australia, those dreams are more realistic than ever.


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