By Brooks Hatch
A junior-college All-American in 2013, Melbourne, Australia native Nick Porebski
is a perfect successor to three-year starter Keith Kostol
. The bearded 23-year-old averaged 45.3 yards per kick, with a long of 65 yards, and deadened 19 attempts inside the opponent's 20-yard line in his lone season with the Badgers last year. Through four games of his first Division I season he leads the Pac-12 with eight punts downed inside the 20-yard line.
Those are solid numbers for any kicker. But they're even more amazing when one remembers Porebski didn't punt seriously until he was 18 years old, following his retirement from the rugged world of Australian Rules Football.
“I was first exposed to football when I was 17 years old,” he said in recalling his introduction to American football. “I received a letter from Prokick Australia, introducing punting to me.
“At that time I played Australian Rules Football and had no idea what punting was. But when I was 18, I hurt my shoulder [playing ARF] and decided to give Nathan Chapman, the guy who runs Prokick Australia, a call.
“I went down, tried out, trained for six months and that's when it all started.”
According to its website [www.prokickaustralia.com], Prokick Australia was established in 2006 to help that country's aspiring kickers and punters transition to American football, and to help further their education or desire to play professionally in North America.
The program has produced All-Americans Scott Harding (Hawaii) and Tom Hornsey (Memphis); Ray Guy Award winners Hornsey and Tom Hackett (Utah), and honorable-mention All-Americans Hackett, Tim Gleeson (Rutgers) and Cameron Johnston (Ohio State).
Numerous other Prokick Australia graduates have also played at all levels in the United States. However, Porebski's path was different than most of his Aussie compatriots.
Porebski, a sociology major at OSU, didn't have the grades to enroll at a Division I school following his graduation from McKinnon Secondary School in Melbourne. So he headed off to Snow, a two-year school of about 4,000 students in Ephraim, Utah, a dot on the map (pop. 6,135) about 75 miles south of Provo on U.S. Highway 89.
Talk about culture shock.
“Coming from Melbourne, adjusting to Ephraim was very difficult at first,” Porebski said. “Melbourne is a big city, about three times the size of Portland. There's a lot of people around and everything is always happening.
“To be shipped out to Ephraim where there are maybe 5,000 people in the town and the climate is a lot different, was pretty tough. It's at 5,000 feet of elevation and very hot and dry, which made it very hard for me to get used to breathing.
“It was a really hard decision to come to the United States. I was still playing Australian Rules Football, and could have continued to play. But I hurt my shoulder and was worried it wouldn't hold up.
“That's when I decided to come over to the U.S. and try a new sport out. Leaving my family was hard, but I think it was definitely worth it. Snow was my best opportunity to be on scholarship, get my schoolwork done and hopefully get a scholarship offer.
“It worked out pretty well.”
Porebski also became an accomplished outdoorsman there and he plans to keep using his new-found skills while living in Oregon.
“I'd never hunted, fished or done anything like that before I came to America,” he said. “I learned all that in Utah, and Oregon definitely is the perfect place for all that.
“So I'm looking forward to doing some 4-wheeling, and a bit of hunting and fishing. That's going to be a great time.”
Porebski said he thought football was a “pretty crazy sport” when he first watched it on television. He didn't know the rules, nuances, terminology or schemes; he wasn't used to seeing a game played in straight lines, as Australian Rules Football is a 360-degree sport played on a round field.
“We go from every angle,” he said. “And there's a lot of stopping and starting in American football, that's a ton different. But once I first started watching. I was kind of hooked.”
Football – at least for a punter – is also far easier on the body.
“In Australian Rules Football you might have to run 12 miles in a game,” he said. “Punters just come on the ground, kick maybe five or six times, then run back off.
“I like not having as much contact put on me. Australian Rules Football is very harsh on your body; you don't wear pads. Punters don't get tackled that often and don't have to make many hits, so you can wake up the next morning feeling nice and fresh and continue to punt.
“After growing up playing Australian Rules Football, if the opportunity does come for me to run or make a tackle I'm more than comfortable doing it,” he said. “As for passing, if it's maybe 20-to-25 yards, that's my limit. I'm more comfortable running but if I had to throw I could.”