NFL Punters From Australia Follow Path Of Immigrant Engineers

Immigration history contains many examples of groups filling niches in the U.S. economy. Cambodian refugees started donut shops across California. Many Filipinos went to school to train as nurses and immigrated to America. Indians have helped fuel innovation and the U.S. technology boom by immigrating as engineers. And, most recently, Australians have become international students and found jobs punting footballs on Sunday afternoons for teams in the NFL.

Six of the 36 punters who played for National Football League teams this season (as of November 2023) were born in Australia, according to a National Foundation for American Policy analysis. Each saw a niche for men who could accurately kick a football great distances.

Two other punters came to the United States from other countries. Jamie Gillan, a punter for the New York Giants, was born in Scotland. He attended a U.S. high school after joining his father, who was in the Royal Air Force and stationed in the United States. Gillan went on to play college football at Arkansas-Pine Bluff. Daniel Whelan, a punter for the Green Bay Packers, immigrated to the United States at 13 from Ireland.

Like many immigrant engineers, NFL punters from Australia study at U.S. universities before attempting to enter the American labor market. “You can’t walk down a street in America these days without tripping over an Australian punter,” writes Iain Payten of the Sydney Morning Herald. “The export market of kickers who have switched Sherrins for Wilsons is now so big that in recent years as many as one in three punters in the 120 FSB (NCAA division 1) college football teams have been Australians.”

Arryn Siposs, who punted for Auburn in college, played for the Philadelphia Eagles in the Super Bowl in 2023.

Economists could point to the role played by punting middlemen in Australia to illustrate the benefits of a global marketplace and the market economy’s genius in aligning supply and demand. In 2007, Nathan Chapman and John Smith created Prokick Australia. “Prokick Australia was developed to train, guide and transition Australian athletes to perform at the College/NFL level,” according to its website. “With our natural Aussie instinct of kicking a ball, we have developed a successful program to enable this.” The company’s mission is clear: “We help young men play college football in America and get a university education.” According to Prokick, it has helped an astonishing 190 Australians obtain full football scholarships at U.S. universities.

One of those Australians is Lou Hedley, who became a cult hero before he launched his first punt as a 30-year-old rookie for the New Orleans Saints in 2023. Hedley dropped out of high school and worked in construction and mining for several years. He played Australian rules football and joined Prokick Australia after showing great potential at a tryout.

Tattoos cover Hedley from head to toe. His appearance raised some questions when he first thought about coming to America. “We had to ask if he had any sort of convictions or spent time inside,” said Prokick’s Nathan Chapman. “Because if so, he wouldn’t be able to get a visa or go to America.”

Hedley started in the United States at a junior college. His grades and playing ability were good enough that the University of Miami gave him a full scholarship in 2019. He became popular on campus and chose the same jersey number as former Miami player Dwayne ‘the Rock’ Johnson. “Hedley earned a bachelor’s degree in sport administration in 2021 at Miami, before a master’s degree in liberal studies,” according to the Washington Post.

Like many international students who first came to America to attend a university, Lou Hedley decided he would like to make a life in the United States. “I’m very blessed that I ended up here,” said Hedley. “I’m fortunate to be in such an amazing country like America, and the opportunities that I’ve gotten here—from junior college to college and now the NFL—I think I definitely plan on staying here.”

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