Behind the Scenes: Australian punter Brett Thorson explains his commitment
The Georgia Bulldogs crossing state borders for talent is no surprise, but to cross onto another continent for football players? That's a unique situation altogether.
In fact, Melbourne, Australia punter Brett Thorson is the first foreign player to be offered a scholarship as an underclassman, and to commit to the Bulldogs.
How does a prospect from a time zone fifteen hours ahead decide he's going to head to Athens? We asked.
Thorson: “It’s been kind of a tricky, weird story, but I joined a program called Pro Kick Australia. We’ve got two coaches, John Smith and Nathan Chapman. They teach us how to punt. We, obviously, know how to kick for football already, but they teach us how to punt American footballs. They film us doing that, and then send it on to coaches in America. Those guys see the film, and if they like what they see, they’ll ask for more. In my case, Coach [Todd] Hartley liked the film that was sent to him, and it goes from there. I’ve been working with Coach Hartley, and we sent him more film. It eventually led to an offer.”
How did Todd Hartley make you feel comfortable enough to give your commitment to the Bulldogs?
“I’ve loved my time getting to know Coach Hartley. We get on a call on a weekly basis. He’s the ultimate family man. That’s very comfortable for me, knowing how family-oriented he is and how good of a person he is. From the get-go, he was very welcoming, and it was more of a personal connection than a business one, so to speak. I was impressed by that. He’s got a good reputation as a punting coach, having worked with two of the three Ray Guy finalists from last year, and he recruited Louis Hedley to Miami as well.”
From Melbourne, Australia to Athens, Georgia, USA, what makes you feel you fit with the program?
“It’s a college town, but it’s a big college town. It’s bigger than the likes of Clemson, for example, and that was an attraction. I loved the look of their campus. With the football program, there’s history there. You’ve never heard anyone talk badly about Georgia football. It seemed like a very good fit, and the ability to compete for a national championship was an attraction, as well.”
How long have you been in touch with staff?
“It’s been about two months now. I haven’t talked to any other colleges ever, but I’ve had a few FaceTimes with Coach [Kirby] Smart. I’ve connected with Coach [Scott] Cochran a few times as well. I’ve exchanged messages with a lot of the staff, and they’ve all been very welcoming. Due to the time difference, they took a lot of their personal time to call me.”
Have you been to the States? What drew you to want to play internationally?
“Never. It’s just the American culture. All the boys from Pro Kick who’ve gone over already say it’s a life-changing experience. They say it’s the best time of your life, and you’ll never forget it. To come over on a scholarship is an attraction, and you get to live life like you’re in the movies. I’ve always been fascinated with America and American sports. The opportunity to continue my education while doing that as well is a highlight. There’s a lot of positives, and it’s hard to narrow down.”
Typically, Australian football players tend to be older when they arrive on the American scene. Are you the same?
“I’m 21. I’m a little bit older, but I’m not like the 25- or 26-year-old guys.”
What does this opportunity mean to you?
“This opportunity means everything. I get to enhance my education, and I get to live a lifestyle that I know millions of Americans would love to live. If you say anything about Georgia, you get people who say, ‘Oh, that’s my dream school. I’d love to play there. I’d give anything to play there.’ I know, for me, I can’t take it for granted, and I will appreciate every day of it. I know I won’t truly understand the magnitude of the school and the football culture until I get there. I feel, once I get there, my appreciation will be even higher, if that’s even possible.”
Do you plan to take a visit to Georgia before enrolling?
“Maybe, but it’ll depend on Australia’s COVID rules. It depends on if we’re allowed out and back in without quarantining. Maybe we can get the shot. It’s based around that.”
How did you get into kicking? What's your background?
“Australian rules football is my background. So, ever since I was young, we’ve been doing what punters do, kicking a football. You kind of know when you have a powerful kick. We call it an ‘unusual kick’ in the AFL. It correlates well to punting, and there have been articles going around about guys who’ve done it like Mason Fletcher at Cincinnati or Ben Griffiths at USC. I got in touch with Pro Kick Australia about this, and I thought my kick might translate.”
How does it translate from kicking an Australian Rules ball to the American football?
“It’s similar, but it’s very different. There’s a lot of little things I guess people won’t know. A lot can go wrong, but we’re trying to be as perfect as we can be with the American football. There’s more room for error in kicking an American ball as opposed to an Australian ball. The Australian ball is a bit more close to a rugby ball, where the ends are more round. The ends aren’t as pointy, and it’s a bit more oval-shaped, so you’ve got to drop the ball differently.”
How will you handle the distance? Will you go back home? Will your family come to see you?
“Obviously, we have FaceTime, so I feel that’ll be a big factor for what goes on. They’re very excited, though. It’s an opportunity to work hard and go for a dream. I hope they can get there, and I know they’re planning to come over. I don’t know if that’ll be a yearly thing or a couple times, but they want to come over. We’ll wait and see about breaks, depending largely on COVID. From what I’ve been told, I won’t want to leave, so they’ll probably have to come visit me.”
Who is Brett Thorson? What do you do outside of football?
“Brett Thorson is, originally, a country kid. I grew up on a dairy farm for eighteen years, so I came up driving tractors, ATVs, motor bikes, anything you could imagine on a farm, I did it. We lived two hours east of Melbourne, and I moved to Melbourne to start studying at 19. I played some cricket and basketball and track and field, as well, when I was younger. I grew up loving sports and being fit, and then I came down to study. I studied Osteo in Melbourne for two years, and then this opportunity came around, so I stopped studying to pursue this. In my downtime, I’m a very chill person. I am relaxed and go with the flow. I will chill out, switch off, and watch a movie, or I might take a drive to the beach. I enjoy my group of mates, a good group of guys in this program who I’m close with at the moment. I spend time with them, whether it be doing some punting extras or going and getting coffee at a café.”
Tell us more about Pro Kick Australia. Is this something you do on the side or totally immersive?
“It’s technically a full-time program. At the moment, we’re doing four mornings at 5:30 AM with gym sessions, and we have a strength and conditioning coach. We have three tiered groups during that. We punt on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays as part of a big group training. In your free time, you’re expected to be working on your ball drops or going for another punt. It’s a full-time program. I’m not studying right now, so it’s 100-percent of what I do.”
What are your measurables?
“I’m about 6-foot-2, and I weigh 210.”
Given what's gone on with COVID, how did you decide to stick with chasing international sports?
“Once I locked into it, I decided this was it, and this was 100 percent what I was going to do. I let it go forward, and in COVID, I had a lot of time to think. The switch kind of flipped, and I knew I was 100 percent all in. I started doing this, whether it was running or punting, until we could get back to being in group sessions. I was punting by myself or with one friend. I pretty much tried to get myself in the best shape mentally and physically that I could. When we were able to get back, I was all in and ready to go. It helped me find my desire.”
When can the Bulldogs expect you on campus?
“I plan to enroll in January.”