Aussie vs Aussie. That’s the battle that will unfold in Latrobe in just over two months. The prize? The right to become the Pittsburgh Steelers’ starting punter.
To some fans, it may not be the most interesting competition. If anything, fans have come to expect to loathe the position ever since Daniel Sepulevda’s knee injuries took him out of the game. Zoltan Mesko and Drew Butler flopped.
Which culminated in Brad Wing serving as the starter in 2014. Born in Melbourne, Australia, his season was met with mixed results. He did have a 74 yard punt against the Cincinnati Bengals, the third longest punt in the league, but his overall average told a different story. A 43.7 average that put him in 29th place. Like his recent predecessors, an inconsistent season.
His competition comes in the form of Jordan Berry, beating out Richie Leone, who was released last week. Berry hails from Victoria, Australia, fewer than 90 minutes away from Wing’s hometown. Like many, he grew up playing Aussie Rules Football before turning his attention to American Football near the end of his high school career. He trained at locations like ProKick Australia, a program designed to transition Aussie Rules players to the American style.
Instead of landing at a premier SEC school like Wing, Berry landed at Eastern Kentucky. A four-year starter, he was named to the Ohio Valley All-Conference team three teams. During his senior year, he set the program record for yards per punt, averaging 43.8 per boot.
There’s no questioning his leg. Over 22% of his punts in college traveled at least 50 yards, including 30% his senior year. Three of those flew more than 70 yards.
He, like Wing, also has a knack for fakes. Whether it was due team philosophy or Berry’s skillset, EKU adored trying them. In what has to be one of the most unique fake punts ever, Berry executed, as the team coined it, a “punt screen pass” for a 14 yard pickup in a 2013 matchup against Morehead State. The play made Sportscenter’s Top Ten list.
The only way to truly enjoy it is to watch it below.
It was the punter who suggested the idea, telling his coaches he felt more accurate punting than throwing it. I’m guessing it’s the first time any coach has ever heard those words.
Berry may have the most exciting highlight reel of any punter. His versatility alone lets him kick from a variety of platforms. He can punt it traditionally or with his running, Aussie style. Coaches even let him try a Doug Flutie extra point drop kick, though the attempt missed.
On box scores alone, Berry was used on eight fakes over his four year career. Five runs and two passes. Another was a pass intended for him that sailed over his head.
Bottom line: anything is possible with Berry on the field. Danny Smith could get really creative in camp, potentially turning mundane special teams sessions into the highlight of the day.
Of course, that aspect is just the frills of the job. It alone won’t earn Berry the spot over Wing. Ultimately, it’ll come down to who is the most consistent and effective punter. With a year under his belt, Wing would seem to have the edge. But it is only that, an edge, and the door is ajar for Berry to swoop in and take reign of the starting job.