How Steelers' Jordan Berry became rock-star 'bloke' for Aussie punters

From ESPN - August 13, 2017

PITTSBURGH -- Jordan Berry savors the simple joys of punting, testing the intense November winds pregame, watching the ball spiral perfectly off his right foot as rushers graze his shoulder and the adrenaline of 11 Steelers creating a coverage wall.

Berry wanted all of this so badly that he worked the night shift at McDonald's back in his native Australia, and that was just one of several odd jobs to land enough cash for another 10,000-mile flight to the United States for camps or tryouts. As a high schooler, Berry and friends got weird looks from locals wondering what the heck they were doing with pads, helmets and a bag of American footballs.

"We'd kick on a random high school field until we were told to piss off," Berry said. "Then go to the next one."

That Berry enters his third season as a starting NFL punter is validation not just for him but also for his kicking teachers and about 70 pupils in Melbourne who consider the 26-year-old their star.

Sure, Aussie-born Giants punter Brad Wing got name-checked in a Nicki Minaj song. But Wing worked his way through the American high school system. Berry is here because he responded to a flier from a Melbourne-based coach looking to help Australian rules football players transition to the U.S. collegiate and NFL games.

Berry was one of three players to come out for an assessment. Since then, Prokick Australia has grown twentyfold. Berry is the group's black-and-gold standard.

"He's sort of set the benchmark for us," said Nathan Chapman, a Prokick coach who has been with Berry since 2008. "He's a guy a lot of our students can relate to. He's really good at giving back to the young blokes who want to learn."

Berry has a bit of rock-star cachet, too, thanks to an NFL game growing overseas. Prokick coach John Smith, who helped develop the program with Chapman, estimates that "about 90 percent of people in Australia probably know who Jordan is now."

Although Berry admits that his vocabulary is Americanized now, he still considers himself the young "bloke" eager for his next shot.

A teenaged Berry loved to kick but realized he did not have the endurance and athleticism to match the best footy players. Online research led him to American football. He saw the chance to "show how big my kick is" and make a good living doing so.

His dad, Jason, worked for Essendon Football Club and came across the flier from Chapman, who kicked professionally for years and had a short stint with the Green Bay Packers.

Berry, Alex Dunnachie and Thomas Duyndam started meeting every day, setting up cones, absorbing Chapman's teaching and eventually producing highlight tapes for colleges. Berry had to buy footballs online because Australian stores did not sell them.

"We are wearing helmets and shoulder pads, and people are driving past and wondering what we are doing," Berry said. "For me, I was just trying to get a scholarship."


Continue reading at ESPN »