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November 27, 2014

Aussie punter thriving at college half a world away from home

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Posted: Monday, August 4, 2014 3:12 pm | Updated: 3:18 pm, Mon Aug 4, 2014.

JACKSONVILLE — As the crow flies, if that crow had superpowers and could flap its way across the Pacific Ocean, it’s 5,582 miles from Jacksonville to Hamish MacInnes’ hometown. Needless to say, he doesn’t make weekend visits to see the folks.

MacInnes, a junior punter for the Gamecocks, goes home to Victoria, Australia, once a year at the end of the school term in May. He stays for about five weeks — during winter in the Southern Hemisphere when he can catch a little of the football he grew up playing.

"The Australian rules football that I played growing up is a full-contact sport,” he said.

In the fourth game of MacInnes’ Jacksonville State career — the fourth time he’d ever worn pads in a game — he registered his only tackle so far.

“We don’t have pads (in Australian rules football), and it’s a different type of hitting and tackling over here,” he said. “Can’t really say I had any experience with hitting over here.”

Of course, the Gamecocks’ coaching staff didn’t recruit the 6-foot-1, 183-pounder for his tackling skills. MacInnes hit his stride as a punter quickly. As a freshman he averaged 39.3 yards a punt — sixth-best in the Ohio Valley Conference. Last season, he upped his average to 42.9 per attempt, with a JSU record 86-yard kick vs. Tennessee Tech. His average was third-best in the league, just 3 yards behind the leader. MacInnes has also registered 27 punts of 50 yards or more.

“He’s an unbelievable player,” head coach John Grass said of the preseason All-OVC pick. “He’s the life of our team. He’s from Australia, so it’s fun to sit around and just listen to him talk. He is a phenomenal talent. A kicker can change field position and change the game. I think he’s got the talent to be an All-American.”

MacInnes was fairly confident he could be a punter for an American college. Getting there, though, took some doing.

“I was with a company in Australia called OzPunt that helps Australian guys try to get scholarships over here,” he said. “I worked with them for a couple of years. From there, I went to a Chris Sailer Kicking Camp, which is a West Coast (U.S.) agency. I just worked with them for a couple of days. That was pretty full-on, so I sort of got picked up through them, but it was more or less just film that I sent through email. Once I got here, it was like any other high-school kid getting recruited.

“I sent films to just about everyone. Most schools just called and said they’d get back to me … but Jacksonville pretty much said, ‘We want to offer you a scholarship.’ I thought, ‘This is the place I should be. If it’s meant to be, then this is the sign.’”

MacInnes’ debut came at Arkansas, in front of what turned out to be the third-largest crowd (71,062) to ever witness a JSU game.

“It took a bit of getting used to,” he said, “but it wasn’t as bad as I would have thought. I was a bit nervous, but (my memory of the game) is mostly just a blur.”

Being so far from home hasn’t been too much of a problem, he said, thanks to modern technology.

“I talk to my parents weekly and text message them and I can call them free of charge, so it’s not a drama at all.”

His father, Don, watched the Gamecocks play at Florida during his freshman year and a cousin caught a game at Tennessee Tech a year ago.

As far as making Jacksonville his home far away from home, MacInnes said it’s been a breeze.

“I got a lot of the textbook kind of questions from my teammates when I got here, but now I suppose I’m like any other guy,” he said. “The guys were fantastic and they still are.”

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