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Thursday, January 21, 2021

University’s punt pays dividends

Mitchell Crawford landed in the United States sight unseen to try his luck at college football.

As it turns out, his luck was in.

University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) took a punt on the unheralded Crawford amid the Miners’ struggles offensively in the 2018 Conference USA.

The 24-year-old, who honed his kicking skills nearly 9,000 miles away in the Black Diamond AFL competition as a star with the Newcastle City Blues, quickly seized the opportunity.

In just his third game of American football, and in front of a crowd of 90,000 at Tennessee, Crawford fell one punt shy of the UTEP record of 13, held by five punters.

“It was an unreal experience – I never dreamed of doing anything like that,” he told Newcastle Weekly.

“It’s something I’ll never forget.”

Despite UTEP picking up just one win from its 12 fixtures, Crawford was named Player of the Game on three occasions and received an honourable mention for the Conference USA Team of the Year.

He admitted it took a while to adjust to certain aspects of the sport.

“The coaches were good in making sure I understood everything going into practice,” he said.
“The kicking transferred pretty much identically really, but just the practices and getting used to the amount of guys on the roster, which is about 100 instead of like 45 [with AFL], and how passionate they are about sport.”

Prior to Crawford’s arrival in Texas, he was a member of the Sydney Swans academy and trained alongside Michael Dickson – an NFL sensation who made the All-Pro team after a stellar debut year in 2018 that saw him produce unconventional rugby-style drop-kicks and clutch plays.

Dickson put Crawford in touch with Prokick Australia – widely regarded as the world’s premier developer of American punters – and, from there, UTEP decided to delve into the Australian market for the first time.

“I was in the academy with [Dickson] and just followed his lead,” Crawford said.

“I think there are three in the NFL currently and about 60 Prokick guys playing division 1 [NCAA] football.”

After his own highly-successful first year on a full scholarship, Crawford made the journey back to Newcastle for Christmas.

He will return to Texas later this month ahead of the preseason.

“It’s spring over there now so we’ll start preseason soon and study, then head into fall camp, which starts around the end of July, before the season begins in late August-early September,” Crawford said.

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