OK, let’s get the silliness out of the way quickly.
No, Cameron Johnston has not been to Outback Steakhouse, though it says plenty about Ohio State’s freshman Australian punter that he laughs good-naturedly at the question instead of rolling his eyes.
Johnston didn’t feel the need to point out that Outback is an American chain, not Australian. He has become used to fielding questions about his accent and life in his native land.
The bigger question — can this 21-year-old with no American football experience do the job for the Buckeyes? — seems to be fading by the day. When a temporary scholarship crunch caused OSU commitment Johnny Townshend to pick Florida after signing day, the Buckeyes suddenly were in the market for a punter.
Enter Johnston, a former Australian Rules Football player who had been working for the previous 18 months at ProKick Australia. ProKick has become a minifactory for producing kickers, including Alex Dunnachie formerly of Hawaii, Christian Eldred of Minnesota and Tom Hornsey of Memphis.
“It’s something I’ve always wanted to do,” Johnston said. “I always thought of that. I was playing Australian Rules back home and had a couple of friends (kicking here). I thought that this is what I want to end up doing.”
Dazzled by his videos, Ohio State researched Johnston’s background and signed him over the summer. The buzz about 80-yard punts and incredible hang times was so strong that it felt like urban-legend material.
A week into fall camp, the hype seems justified.
“Special, special, special,” said cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs, who has added overseeing the kicking game to his job this year. “He’s gifted. He can kick the ball a long way. He can kick it high. He can kick it where you want him to kick it. He can do all the kicks right now.
“Provided he can continue to do that and manage the American football environment that he is about to placed in, he is going to be a great, great addition to our team.”
In a practice open to the media last week, Johnston produced some booming kicks. He also had a few clunkers against a full rush. At ProKick, Johnston faced a simulated rush, but not from guys the size of Ohio State’s players.
“He hasn’t played in front of 107,000 people, and a bunch of people wearing shoulder pads running at him full speed wanting to kill him,” Coombs said.
But Coombs said he is confident Johnston can handle it.
Placekicker Drew Basil, who handled punting duties during spring practice, said he knew Johnston was special from the first workouts in the summer.
“Oh, my gosh, he’s unbelievable,” Basil said. “Just the way the ball comes off his foot, it’s pretty amazing. He has a different punting form than most people see in America. What they’re taught is to plant their leg really hard into the ground and swing up. They don’t come off the ground. It’s pretty cool.”
Johnston said the adjustment to life off the field has been bigger than on the field, but neither has been a problem.
“The culture has been more the main (adjustment), just funny stuff like driving on the other side of the road,” Johnston said.
Drivers in Australia drive on the left side of the road.
A freshman from a place on the other side of the world might not have a lot in common with his teammates, but Johnston already has become popular among the Buckeyes.
“Cameron, he’s awesome,” Basil said. “He’s a good guy. He’s fitting right in and adjusting really well.”
Johnston will major in education, which he started pursuing in Australia
“I want to finish my degree and do this (punting),” he said. “To be able to get both out of it has been amazing.”