OSU’s Johnston and his punts have a soft landing

COLUMBUS – Ohio State punter Cameron Johnston might struggle to get what he wants in American restaurants at times, but he has been close to what OSU ordered when it recruited him from Australia.

Johnston, a 21-year-old freshman who played Australian rules football, says he has encountered only a few problems since coming to the United States earlier this year.

“At first it was (hard) getting used to being here but other than that, no issues,” Johnston said.

One thing Johnston has learned is that not all former parts of the British Empire are created equal when it comes to speaking English. Or least to understanding it when it is spoken with a different accent.

“The worst part is you go out to restaurants and the waitress will end up asking me four or five times what I want,” Johnston said, with a smile. “You just get your friend to tell her.”

While Ohio State coach Urban Meyer has never called the punt the most important play in football, he did think there was a significant hole in the Buckeyes’ roster when his No. 1 recruiting target at punter, Johnny Townsend, switched his commitment to Florida from OSU last February on national signing day.

OSU special teams and cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs said Meyer’s instructions were very clear.

“Coach Meyer said, ‘Go find a punter. I don’t care where you find him. I don’t care where you get him. Go find a punter,’ ” Coombs said.

“That direction was pretty clear. We looked everywhere. And I mean everywhere. We had film coming in from all kinds of avenues and one of those avenues was Australia,” he said.

Johnston was affiliated with Prokick Australia, an organization that has placed several Aussies in American college football.

“I remember the first conversation I had with the guys in Australia. I said, ‘I’ve got to see the guy with a helmet on against a rush and the next thing I know, they’re sending me a video of a guy in a helmet and shoulder pads and these other jokers (without helmets and shoulder pads) are running at him,” Coombs said.

Johnston was named the Big Ten’s Special Teams Player of the Week for his work in Ohio State’s 31-24 win over Wisconsin last Saturday.

He averaged only 39.8 yards per punt, but five of his six kicks forced Wisconsin to start a drive inside its own 10-yard line and another put the Badgers inside the 20-yard line.

He saved the best for last when he boomed a 55-yard punt that ended up inside Wisconsin’s 10-yard line with 1:29 left in the game.

The only time anyone has returned a punt against him came when Wisconsin’s Jared Abbrederis had a 3-yard return.

Distance is not the most important thing OSU is looking for in a punter, Coombs said.

“If we want to ooh and ah, we can do that any time. At the same time, teams that do that have returns that are extreme. We want to cover kicks. We want to split the field and make sure other teams don’t return the ball.”

Maybe the only person not talking up Johnston’s work this week is Meyer. He says he wants to see the kind of hang time Johnston got on his final punt all the time.

His grade for Johnston was a C-. “His average hang time was just under four seconds, which is completely unacceptable,” Meyer said.